The Big Silver Button

“Why can’t you guys just make a button to do this. A big silver one with the words Migration written in obsidian. Give me a button for this bull, and I will push it, but don’t make me type this nonsense.”

They had tried that, and he was one of the many people the shiny button left out of the migration. The idea of a switch to solve the world’s problem is not new. COVAD would replace entire departments with just a few buttons.

People like quick fixes. People expect them.

“Sir, we can make very nice buttons, that is not the issue. We do not have the ability to make all the little bits behind it. That is the issue.” I used my sympathetic/authoritative voice that I found works for most people where I can’t solve your problem, so I help you feel better about having it.

His demand for a better button is what most of us want.

There is a certain evolution to buttons. They are the interface between us and our machines. My Dad used to work at a sheet metal factory making cases out of flat steel. He brought home a few cases with all the dials and switches installed . I remember flipping the dip switches back and forth, imagining that I was launching space probes. I would do it like in the scifi movies and flip them loudly and quickly. I wanted to be an astronaut at the time, and I had thought most of the job involved flipping switches and turning dials. If that had been true, I would be Buck Rogers by now. I was living in the transistor stage of electronics and switches were the bees knees.

Buttons start out doing something simple. They do one thing. But most people want to do many things. This means many buttons, and you have to put them all on panels. Some of the buttons are all used in a certain order to do a certain task. This means you need many human operators to hit the buttons in the correct order.

Human operators directly effect profitability; and the further up the ivory tower you climb, the more people must seem like negative numbers on a spread sheet.

So the buttons are combined into one, and those buttons are added into others until the least amount of people are needed to do the job.

This has been going on since the industrial revolution.

The buttons themselves have been evolving and many are no longer buttons at all. Early buttons were switches that opened and closed a circuit. The light switch on your wall is an early type of button.

I saw my first working Vacuum tube in electronics class. The electronics teacher patiently explained how it worked, what it did, and why it got hotter than an easy bake oven just to be an AM radio. I am certain that I didn’t listen as well as I should have, but I remember him telling us that it was a type of thermal switch that could could control the flow of electrons through a circuit. They had already been replaced by transistors by the time I was born. These were an early form of computer chip and made everything smaller, cooler, and more efficient.

It’s never small and cool enough. We always want it to be just a little better.


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