Last semester, I took a course at NYU Gallatin called Life Among the Machines. The class focused on the relationship between technology and society throughout history, critically examining topics ranging from women’s housework to autonomous weapons. Among all of the pieces we read, my favorite was our first, an analysis of one of the first “human machine interfaces” — the push button. Although push buttons and their counterparts like dials, keys, and levers may seem trivial in the grand scheme of technological interactions, they offer a fascinating vantage point from which to understand human-machine relationships.

Below is a brief background on the cultural relevance of the electric button in the late nineteenth century. Following this is a (very) rough (and odd) draft of a first-perspective short story I wrote that pulls on themes from a few important research and theory based sources. You will enter the world of Thomas, a middle-class, white man living in Pennsylvania. He has a bit of a compulsive mind and a strong curiosity about the world — two things that bring him to an existential moment where he is faced with something he has never encountered before: an electric button. …

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