Observation - Big Yellow Button

I always have a great time observing people at the crosswalk on Washington and Atlantic. Atlantic Ave is a wide street with lots of traffic, a healthy individual might need about 25 seconds to cross. But because it is main commercial road for trucks, the light changes quite infrequently. So if you are unlucky enough to be stuck on one side of Washington, you could be there for a while.

But luckily for us the city has generously installed a gigantic yellow button. Which, upon pressing, one can only assume that someone, something, or some higher being is notified that you are waiting to cross the street.

Of course when you press it, nothing happens - the trucks on Atlantic keep speeding by indifferently. So you press the button again. And again. Then maybe you smack the button,or tap it rapid fire, because perhaps, you rationalize, that the harder and faster you press it, the better you can trick the light into believing that thousands of people waiting to cross Atlantic Ave.

But no. It doesn't help. Yet you are still pressing the button mindlessly, like a rhumba bumping up against a wall.

The conspiratorial tendencies in me lead me to believe that this button's circuit is intentionally nonexistant - the button is meant as a stress relief mechanism to occupy the restless and impatient minds of New York City commuters. Which, if that is the case, may be the greatest diversion ever concocted from a bunch of devious city workers.

Providing a mechanism for a pedestrian to believe they are in control relieves the stress of being powerless. In fact the tactile experience of slamming your palm into a gigantic button is such an impowering interaction that you can't help but feel like your needs are being listened to. The fatal flaw in this devious tactic is that there is no feedback once the button is pressed. Thus the end result is worse than if there was no button at all.

If there was feedback to indicate that the user's action had been registered, perhaps some of the pedestrian's frustration could be mitigated.

Written on September 20, 2015