History of the Button

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Presentation given at SXSW on March 12, 2010. Synced with the audio! Even though technology evolved at a crazy pace the last 100 years, the humble button has stayed at the center of it all. What is its past, its future? Why is it important? What does it say about the interaction between humans and technology? Pictures, stories, revelations, movies.

Text of History of the Button

  • Historyof the Button Bill DeRouchey
  • Hello. This incarnation of the History of the Button was presented at SXSW on March 12, 2010. This slide deck is slightly different from the live presentation. The main difference is that the videos that were in the presentation have been translated here to stills as best as possible. Enjoy. Also, narration boxes like this are Bill DeRouchey extra notes to help fill in context where necessary and point out bill.derouchey@gmail.com where this version differed from @billder the live presentation.
  • About the audio. If youre listening to the audio, sorry about the bad quality for the first 12 minutes. SXSW somehow cut off the first 12 minutes. To make up for it, I had to slice in the audio from my FlipCam recording, which was better than nothing. If youre not listening to the audio, then it doesnt matter at all. Carry on.
  • This is astory that spans over 100 years... As a contrast to SXSW which focuses so much on the Now and the Future.
  • ... about how we got from here to here...
  • buttons ... about how have changed how we understand our world...
  • buttons ... about how have changed how ... think. we understand our world.
  • Products Movies Advertisements Screens Well take almost an anthropological approach by looking at these items to examine the history of the button.
  • 1910 1956 1984 2010 These were all movies in the original presentation. The simplest motion.
  • 1910 1956 1984 2010 These were all movies in the original presentation. is just push the button.
  • This was a movie in the original presentation (from Apple.com). Were in a transition....
  • This was a movie in the original presentation (from Apple.com). a transitiontransition.... Were in a to Surface.
  • Transitions are interesting... because thats when our brains change.
  • Generations of Interaction 1 Lever 2 Button now 3 Surface 4 Fluid We are currently in a transition from a button era to a surface era.
  • Generations of Interaction 1 Lever 1900 2 Button 3 Surface 4 Fluid We should look to the previous transition to understand today.
  • We are a bunch of smart monkeys. We figured out how to use the objects in the world around us to augment our human motion. Bones into shovels. Sticks into rakes. Iron into gears. We love our tools.
  • For example, a gun can simply be understood as throwing a rock, a tiny rock, much faster and with greater accuracy.
  • Pressing on the keys of a piano simply triggers a hammer hitting a string. Motion is augmented.
  • You can see the Action. In the mechanical era, you can see action happen, see how one motion affects another. You can follow the results from action to result.
  • Levers scale motion. Scaling is the mechanical age.
  • Compressed Time Major advances in technology actually change how we perceive the world. For example, train travel compressed our sense of time between faraway places.
  • The telegraph changed our sense of connection over distance. Instant communication across hundreds of miles for the first time. Compressed Distance
  • But the button meant for the first time, the result of a human motion could be completely different from the motion itself. Abstracted Motion
  • The motion Push does not scale to the result Light. This abstracted interaction with technology represented a new way to comprehend the world.
  • Buttons abstract motion. Abstraction is the electronic age.
  • What was the first button? This might be the most common question people ask me.
  • The flashlight was the first simple everyday button. It revolutionized our sense of light. What was the first button? 1898
  • Buttons enter Daily Life
  • George Eastman of Kodak introduced cameras for regular people. 1890s
  • Eastman used the phrase You Press the Button, We Do the Rest to show how simple cameras can be. Button = easy. 1890s
  • Doorbells replaced pull ringers in homes. 1900s
  • As the electricity grid expanded, homes installed lights and simple pushbuttons to turn the lights on and off. 1910s
  • Sidenote: An editorial cartoon from 1911 depicting a dark vision of the future. Surrounded by technology, lazy, pushing buttons. For a similar dystopian view, read the 1910 short story The Machine Stops from E.M. Forster. 1911
  • The Opera Delivered to Your Door = Pandora The Observascope = webcams Of course, all with a robot servant!
  • The next major tech innovation was the radio, sending live audio from a distance. The opera really now was delivered to you. The radio. 1920s
  • 30 million radios sold by 1938. This was their Internet boom.
  • But tuning to your favorite stations almost required a scientist mentality. Until 1938 when radio presets (buttons) exchanged the emphasis on tuning for returning. 1938 Radio presets.
  • Essentially, radio presets were the first notion of saving in technology. Save your favorite station. 1938 First notion of Save. Radio presets.
  • Buttons represent The Future
  • 1939 During the Great Depression, people looked to a better future, capped by the Worlds Fair in 1939. New York Worlds Fair
  • 1939 Technology was heralded as the emancipator of leisure. A shrine to the button?
  • Movie from 1940 depicting a vision of the future. With robots. 1940
  • Roys Robot Repair is helping this concerned woman with her robot. 1940
  • She controls her robot with buttons. Roll-Oh can even fix a furnace. 1940
  • When fixed, Roll-Oh fetches the nice repairmans hat. 1940
  • 1958 Visions of the future continued, including this Monsanto home, promoting both the wonders of plastics and pushbuttons. Monsanto House of the Future
  • Another movie. 1958
  • The hap