Doomed never to be more than a “brother” to Cinders – a tragedy which tends to be replayed (for laughs?!) at this time of year.
In the context of nouns that have always been allowed in Scrabble (rather than those permitted in the johnny-come-lately rules now favoured: rules which pander to those with a more limited vocabulary but a subscription to Heat), buttons have been with us for some 5000 years. The button received a major boost in the 13th century when it was finally introduced to the button-hole. Truly a marriage made in Heaven: before this joining, the button was a purely ornamental feature and the button-hole existed only to provide a resting place for a carnation.
In the last 50 years, the electronics revolution has further boosted the popularity of the button, with many devices more covered in buttons than a Pearly monarch (would a republican Cockney dress as a pearly President?). This is far from the only parallel between haberdashery and modern technology: both processors and messages now have threads and files can be zipped (and, if you’re really lucky, unzipped).
My life is awash with buttons – many of them largely useless. I have always kept the spare buttons that are provided with new garments, but have never either used or disposed of any of these. As a result, my chances of ever finding an appropriate replacement are remote though, in partial compensation, I do have plenty of options for accessorisation. However, it is surplus electronic buttons that have led, inexorably, to this post.
Most devices with a large number of buttons have several that are never used, and whose purpose is probably a mystery to their owners – or is that just me? My TV remote has a button marked “Theatre” whose purpose I can barely even guess at. It has another marked “Scene”, so perhaps my television is a frustrated thespian? Should I start applauding good programmes and calling for an encore? Or just place the TV behind a velvet curtain? I know how temperamental these luvvies can be…
Some buttons have a more obvious apparent purpose, but I have begun to suspect that they exist purely to humour me (the user). This blog is a testament to the fact that I have a bread-maker, though I have had to let the pastry cook go (austerity bites even at Fish Towers). This has six buttons – and I know that three of these actually do something (and no, they don’t stop his trousers falling down: “he” is a product of the Panasonic corporation). I had, foolishly it now seems, assumed that the other three buttons also did something, and not just cause a small mark to appear on the LCD display. When I made my last loaf (i.e. most recent, I am not about to eschew the baker’s art), a fairly standard granary, I failed to correctly set the size (using the Size button) and inadvertently chose XL, having only provided the ingredients for a Medium loaf. I feared disaster, and there is no way of changing the size after pressing Start – even turning the machine off and back on again was ineffective (which exhausted my bakery-based IT expertise). I needn’t have worried, the loaf was produced exactly as though I had chosen the correct size – it would seem that this button is provided solely to give the user the illusion of control. I’ve never hazarded the Crust button, largely because it lacked the “Upper” setting that I wanted, but perhaps it too exists only to make me feel important and relevant to the bread-making process. I do wonder if bread machines will soon be programmed to order and load the ingredients themselves and then eat the loaf when its finished, entirely cutting out the pesky, error-prone human element from the process.
Still, I don’t see the machines rising to write this sort of rubbish any time soon – so at least one of my roles in life is secure. And now, in keeping with today’s theme, it is time for me to button it!