The Button everyone on the Internet is obsessing over
On April Fools’ Day, popular sharing site Reddit added a new feature called “The Button.” It’s a really simple feature, with a button that users can click on and a timer. And yet since being added, “The Button” has become a phenomenon. As of last count, 759,530 users (an almost 100 user increase between when I started writing and when I finished) have pushed the button, which restarts the timer. There are websites dedicated to stats on when the button gets pushed, research being done on why people push the button when they do, and all kinds of questions about what “The Button” can tell us about group behavior.
Um, what? How can one random button spark so many huge discussions? And why are so many people pushing the button?
The instructions posted along with “The Button” are as follows: “The timer will count down from 60 seconds. If the button is pressed the timer will reset to 60 seconds and continue counting down. Only users logged into accounts created before 2015-04-01 can press the button. You may only press the button once. We can’t tell you what to do from here on out. The choice is yours.”
That’s it. The only explanation given by Reddit is right there. We don’t know what would happen if it got down to zero, how long “The Button” will be up, or what the purpose was when originally posted. Based just on that little paragraph above, over three quarters of a million users have used their one click to keep the timer going, with the vast majority doing so before the timer counts down to 20. In fact, an entire system of denoting when users clicked the button has sprung up, with colored flairs popping up next to usernames to indicate how close to zero they let the timer get.
So why are people pressing “The Button”? Vox suggests that it comes down largely to boredom and status seeking. As more and more people have pushed the button and created a hierarchy of who waited the longest, getting a little colored flair next to your username has taken on greater significance. It’s also about patience, waiting to see if you’ll have a chance to push the button before someone else gets to it. That’s where the boredom comes in — you can sit and wait for the lowest number (currently 27) to appear, but with most people pushing it when the timer gets into the 40s, you could be waiting all day.
Reddit’s admins aren’t saying anything about “The Button,” and estimates vary on how much longer “The Button” can be pushed given that only users who were on the site prior to April 1 can push it. It adds a level of suspense, knowing that the timer has to run out eventually. Until then, “The Button” will remain one of those weird Internet mysteries.