• Matthew Kaufman

How Pressing Buttons Makes You a Better Person

“Sweet touch, you've almost convinced me I'm real.” - Touch by Daft Punk


There’s something so satisfying about that sound, isn’t there? That feel when you click a button or hit a key and you feel the response in your fingertips. Both the audible and physical feedback you get just feel right, don’t they? After all, it’s why most video game controllers are still made using analog pieces rather than digital. That said, in our growingly digital age, these sensations seem to be going to the wayside. Look at even cell phones for an example. Mainstream phone makers like Apple, Samsung, and many others have begun removing these physical buttons in favor of touch interfaces. So why do we still yearn for the old ways? What made the analog buttons feel so good and why does it matter in your life?

So first off, let’s talk about what makes the analog way feel good. In almost all traditional switches, buttons, and even keys there is some resisting force that keeps them popped up, ready to be pressed down.

Whenever a button gets stuck, the spring or whatever other mechanism that resets the button is being prevented. This could be because you got food crumbs in there, because the button itself is sticky, or because the spring is dying out from use. It is this compression and release that gives that feeling we associate with pressing down a button. This is called the “haptic feedback” of the button.

What happens when you press a digital button on a touch screen though? There’s no real feedback, is there? Since there’s no springs, no plastic covers, or anything, there’s no sound made or anything pushing back other than the un-moving screen. While modern touch devices have begun to implement means of emulating haptic feedback by having the device rumble or vibrate slightly, it still doesn’t feel quite right. It gives the user of the device the acknowledgement both sound wise and physical wise, but simply isn’t the same.

Beyond this, there’s also the matter of the level of feedback given back. When you press a digital button, it can only be represented in one of two ways, pressed or not pressed. What about a physical button like a trigger on a controller though? There is a wide array of the level of strength that you can apply and have applied back to you via the springs and haptic feedback forces. Press down gently and the force that resists you is gentle, press hard and be ready for it to fly back into place the moment you let go of it.

This kind of feedback is important.

Throughout our lives, we rely heavily on feedback. Whether the feedback is small or large, we use it to guide our decisions and respond correspondingly. When you’re holding a conversation, you rely on physical feedback like their body language and level of eye contact to determine their interest in the conversation and to better talk to them. Just like when you press down on a button, you rely on that feedback to let you know if the inputs you’re giving are good or if there’s a problem. Likewise when dealing with buttons, this feedback often disappears in the digital sphere.

When you go online, there is no body language to read or tone of voice to hear. There is only the cold hard electronic words on electronic screens. Just like a digital button, they are binary. They either exist, or they do not. There is no tone of voice or varying level of force you can change in how you apply or submit those words. This simple fact has caused many people a number of misconceptions, miscommunications, and missteps. Had these conversations otherwise taken place in person, where you could rely on the implicit feedback the other person would be giving, it is easy to question whether or not those problems would have arisen.

It is for this reason that it is very important to remember the difference and impact that the difference something like haptic feedback can provide. While the binary nature of digital can help sometimes and may not matter in every circumstance, the level of feedback can be appreciated in any form. This is why most social media let you “like” posts. But even then, that is still a binary of feedback instead of the wide array of emotions you may be feeling towards the post. As we leave this age of clicks and clacks, remember what they mean and what losing their feedback means.

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