Autonomía digital y tecnológica

Código e ideas para una internet distribuida

Linkoteca. placebo tecnológico

The thing about buttons, though, is there seems to be some invisible magic taking place between the moment you press them down and when you get the expected result. You can never really be sure you caused the soft drink to appear without opening up the vending machine to see how it works.

Maybe there’s a man inside who pulls out the can of soda and puts it in the chute. Maybe there’s a camera watching the machine, and someone in a distant control room tells the machine to dispense your pop.

You just don’t know, and that’s how conditioning works. As long as you get the result you were looking for after you press the button, it doesn’t matter. You will be more likely to press the button in the future (or less likely to stop).

The problem here is that some buttons in modern life don’t actually do anything at all. The magic between the button press and the result you want is all in your head. You never catch on – because you are not so smart.

New Yorkers (those who don’t jaywalk, that is) have for years dutifully followed the instructions on the metal signs affixed to crosswalk poles:

To Cross Street

Push Button

Wait for Walk Signal

But as The New York Times reported in 2004, the city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that were in place at the time existed as mechanical placebos. Today there are 120 working signals, the city said.

About 500 were removed during major construction projects. But it was estimated that it would cost $1 million to dismantle the nonfunctioning mechanisms, so city officials decided to keep them in place.

Most of the buttons were scattered throughout the city, mainly outside of Manhattan. They were relics of the 1970s, before computers began choreographing traffic signal patterns on major arteries.

La razón de esto la explicaron hace un tiempo en medios como el New York Times o Science Alert. Una ley estadounidense llamada ‘Americans With Disabilities Act’ y aprobada en 1990 que buscaba proteger a las personas con discapacidades físicas de situaciones como la de no poder entrar en un ascensor a tiempo antes del cierre de puertas. De repente, por ley, ya no se podían cerrar las puertas voluntariamente si ello implicaba cerrar el paso a alguien que usase una silla de ruedas o unas muletas.

Sin embargo, al mismo tiempo, quedó patente que botones como el de cerrar las puertas de un ascensor dan cierta sensación de control de una situación aunque a nivel efectivo no hagan nada. Esa sensación de control reduce el estrés y la ansiedad, según la profesora Ellen J. Langer de la Universidad de Harvard.

Así que a partir de 1990, todos los ascensores empezaron a fabricarse con botones de cerrar puertas que no hacían nada.