What if we told you that every time you push a crosswalk button in NYC, you are part of a secret placebo experiment that’s been happening right under your nose for years and you never realised?
Yep. Truth is, an estimated 90% of crosswalk buttons in NYC do absolutely nothing to speed up the process of getting a walk signal.
It’s true! Since the 1970s, all traffic lights in NYC have been run by a computer program, rendering your one-digit interactions with them as entirely futile. The city decided it would be too expensive to remove each button so they just left them there.
They later discovered that people felt much better when they believed they had some kind of control over their wait time. These buttons are known as placebo buttons or “idiot” buttons.
“But wait, Secret NYC. Didn’t you you just say that ‘90%’ of the crosswalk buttons don’t work? What about the other 10%? How do we know which ones work and which ones don’t.” Ah well, there’s the rub. You can’t tell. So you’re going to have to go on pushing the buttons knowing you’re a big, stupid “idiot”.
And it’s not just traffic lights that feature idiot buttons. The button to close elevators in NYC mostly only function with an engineer’s key. And music studios also have idiot buttons on their consoles for prima-donna artists who want to tell the producer what to do but don’t even realise the button they pushed did nothing.
See, even pop stars are “idiots”.
Featured cover image: New York Times