Elevators, Crosswalks, and Pushing My Buttons


I am a button pusher.

I am, by nature, not a patient person. Throughout my life this has proven to, at times, be both a blessing and a curse. But, over time I have come to accept it as a part of who I am. 

If you were to observe me in an elevator or at a street crossing you would likely witness me pressing the call button multiple times with such fervency and urgency that you might think that I was sending a signal with morse code. 

You say, “But Scott, the call button is already lit.” 

I don’t care! And yes, I am fully aware that pressing the call button over and over doesn’t speed up the process, and yet there I am pressing it anyway. And I’m not stopping there either!

Once in the elevator, I will press the “door close” button to no obvious avail. Upon reaching my room I will promptly press the thermostat buttons to adjust something that has already been pre-programmed and and surf the internet using a router with set speeds that will not vary, no matter how many times II refresh my browser. 

Argh! All of these useless buttons are starting to push mine!

It’s true, our lives are filled with buttons that do absolutely nothing.

Crosswalk buttons have been overridden by traffic algorithms. Elevator door speeds are dictated by the American with Disabilities Act, thermostats are set for energy optimization, and the internet, well, it’s just the internet. 

And yet the buttons remain... Why?

It turns out that while they have no functionality, they do have a purpose. They provide a calming placebo effect for the user allowing him to believe he has control. In fact, they are called "placebo buttons" -- buttons that can be pushed but provide no functionality. Even though they lack functionality placebo buttons remain because, for most people, doing something (pressing a useless button) typically feels better than doing nothing.

In your ensembles you have some students who are true musicians. People whose talent is as evident as it is effortless. Budding artists who could, and should, make a career of this activity. It is also likely that you have students in your ensembles who are little more than button pushers. People whose musical contribution is as suspect as it is awkward. 

But that does not mean that their musical experience is without value.

Although pressing the buttons on their instrument may not achieve the desired musical result, it still provides a positive result. The placebo effect for these young people is that for 52 minutes a day they have the illusion of being in control. Their time in school is not wasted, is of their choosing, and is something they enjoy. It occupies their mind and calms their soul. If nothing else, your class allows their teenage mind a much needed hit of dopamine and they are doing something, which feels better than doing nothing.

So for today, and perhaps only today, let’s acknowledge and appreciate your button pushers. Yes, they may not be achieving our desired results but the placebo effect is achieving a great deal. 

So let us celebrate the button pushers, as long as they aren’t pushing yours!

Have a great week!