How many more buttons are there in the US than three were 39/40 years ago?
November 17, 2006 7:10 AM   Subscribe

The other day someone told me her baby son likes to press buttons, and I started to wonder how many more buttons are there in the world than when I was a baby.

I started being a baby at the start of 1967. I am not sure when being a baby ends, many for me will say, not yet, but one year? Anyway, hold would one estimate the increase of buttons over time (because of the digital technology). Physical buttons only, hard and soft controls (soft count only once regardless of mode), and perhaps keyboards count too, since the distinction gets difficult with mobile devices.
This seems too difficult to pull off, but maybe MeFi comes through. But in forty years, how many more buttons? And is a graph over time possible. Thanks for any thoughts. I would start maybe by restricting to US and estimating by household.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat to Society & Culture (9 answers total)
Hm. Looking around my house here, the only devices I'm seeing (at a quick glance around) that didn't exist 40 years ago are the remote controls and the computers. Though the dishwasher would probably have been more rare back then.

Things that have buttons now that didn't then (or are more likely to have buttons, or have more buttons): stereo, TV, phone, stove, dishwasher, lamps, thermostat, washer, dryer, alarm clocks, and, of course, toys. I'm not including the on/off buttons -- anything electrical might have a button for the power, where it would have more likely been a switch 40 years ago.

Now how to count the number of buttons, I don't know.
posted by winston at 7:22 AM on November 17, 2006

You're not really going to get an answer to this, but....

As an approximation, just focus on the big ones. How many computers, cash registers, remotes, and phones have been purchased in the past 40 years? Multiply by 110 for computers, 15 for phones(dial tones and cellular, averaged) and remotes, and maybe 30 or so for registers.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:53 AM on November 17, 2006

I suspect registers have less buttons now than they used to, as a result of scanners and touch screens.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:00 AM on November 17, 2006

Check out:
posted by mathowie at 9:02 AM on November 17, 2006

There are probably studies that could help you find the numbers for various appliances in the home. Then, you'll have to track down some examples of those appliances from now and from 1967.

This doesn't go back to 1967 but it could get you the stats for now. And a lot of those appliances wouldn't have had buttons in 1967, or would have been rare. (Like the microwave oven.)
posted by RobotHero at 9:04 AM on November 17, 2006

I don't think he wants the total increase in the number of buttons, but the total increase in the variety of buttons... also there has been some loss of buttons. E.G. there aren't as many typewriters manufactured now as there were in 67, and there aren't as many push button automobile transmissions either.
posted by Gungho at 10:13 AM on November 17, 2006

I was thinking about this too, because my 18 month old son is button-crazy.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 10:57 AM on November 17, 2006

For what it's worth, it used to be common for household light switches to be button activated (two buttons each). I think they were already on their way out by the mid to late 20s though.

My mother's old blender had a whole row of buttons. My food processor only has three.
posted by Good Brain at 11:18 AM on November 17, 2006

What about toys with buttons? The babies I know have a number of toys with pressable buttons (eg a "camera" with buttons which the child presses and it says things like "cheese!" ... would these count?
posted by paduasoy at 11:58 AM on November 17, 2006

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