The Buttons

Van Mensvoort
September 3rd 2010

Nowadays buttons are completely mundane and natural objects in our environment. You find them on phones, alarm clocks, keyboards, elevators, dishwashers and of course on the computer screen. You press buttons countless times throughout your day, but hardly think of them consciously.

The little symbols of control are so omnipresent, it is difficult to imagine that buttons did not always exist. Certainly people in the stone age did not press them – taken that nipples do not count as buttons – but we don't know exactly when we started pushing buttons and who invented them.

Apparently buttons were unknown until the early 20th Century, with the possible exception of valves on wind instruments. When small controls were needed, for example on camera shutters, they were usually styled after latches or triggers.

Recent RCA graduate Nitipak Samsen, took it upon himself to re-investigate and re-design the concept of the button altogether, moving from the button as a symbol of control, an extension of the human desire to harness the planet, to inter-control.

The Buttons' is a range of conceptual controlling mechanisms which include:

Sharing resources: asking permission to use shared resources.
I’m watching you: restraint or temptation?
Consequences: reminding us of the fragility of the environment.
Does scale matter?: small button - big consequences or big button - small consequences?
Footprint indicator: physically feeling the consequences of an action.
Weighted waiting: users’ efficiency (time) vs. planet’s efficiency (energy).
Limited resources: constraint or discipline?

Next, we would like Nitipak Samsen to design the presidents nuclear button – curious to see what it would look like.

Your readers homework for today is, every time you press a button, to pause for a moment and ask yourself: why am I doing this and is there also another way?

Seen at: V2_ TestLab. See also: Switch Critters – can you make them switch?, Gel Remote, The powerbutton button,

Share your thoughts and join the technology debate!public: 1


scott baluch
Posted 05/09/2010 – 05:41

Cool article! i stumbled on this page and thought of Next Nature! Enjoy!
Solar Forest Keeps Cars Cool And Juiced

Posted 05/09/2010 – 02:57

The button is the technological approximation of the fantasy of telekinesis. The idea of telekinesis appears at the same time as the button, it is virtually unknown in all previous eras. The button IS fairly expedient for electronic devices, which often rely on completion of circuits, but it's ubiquity in the high-modern lifeworld goes beyond what can be explained by form strictly following function. Moderns had an exuberance for buttons, which marks a general desire to be a disembodied will--the fantasy of telekinesis. But the body and materiality fights back. The body wants levers, dials, and such. The apogee of the button era was the push button transmission used in automobiles in the sixties. since then the exuberance for buttons has subsided. we now live in a post button era, the era of ergodynamics. The body and physicality have reasserted themselves. But what unites the button and the post-button eras is that neither honors the machine. The pre-button era was marked by a richer mode of interaction with machines, typified in the examples of the bricoleur and the train engineer.
Today we need to revive this kind of "engineering" as a way of living with machines that honors mind, body, and machine through enriching practices of dialogical interaction.

Posted 19/07/2010 – 13:21

Nice project, but that kind of homework would severely hinder writing comments, let alone the essay I'm working on now!

What is your view on the coronavirus?

Siri Beerends: I really embrace the idea that viruses can teach us a lesson in modesty. It is necessary that our position as the dominant species on the planet is being challenged. I also agree that it is a mistake to think that we are becoming Gods. But unfortunately, this is actually what is happening now. Corona doesn’t teach us to be modest, it teaches us how we can -as quickly as possible- go back to business as usual: saving our capitalistic economy.

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