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Why This Button Is the Most Fascinating Thing on the Web Right Now

5 minute read

One of the things that made LOST so enthralling was that you, the viewer, could ask yourself what you might do if you found yourself in the show’s fantastic-yet-simple scenarios. Would you hoard supplies? Would you lie about your past? Would you press the button?

But even better was that you could also order a pizza and have it delivered sometime before the first commercial break — because you were located in your living room and not living off coconuts on some desert island in the middle of a mysterious magnetic vortex. In other words, you could play along with the sociological experiment, but eventually you’d be forced to walk away, because it’s not real.

Similar to LOST’s button scenario, on April 1, Reddit posted “The Button” to its website, along with a timer and only this explanation:

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.

As of this writing, 751,354 people have pressed the button, and in the age of quantified everything, it’s a remarkable (though quite possibly useless) study of patience, popularity, the global reach of Reddit, crowd mentality and total irreverence. For instance, Chris Stevens, a 16-year-old student from Essex, England, has collected the statistics generated by The Button on his website, programmed using the skills he’s amassed in his high school computing class.

“I thought that creating the site would be a fantastic exercise to try and further my knowledge,” says Stevens.

And of all those button-pushers worldwide, just three people share the current (as of this writing) record time of waiting until there were 27 seconds remaining in the button’s 60-second countdown. “It is kind of a big deal, isn’t it?” says one such record-holder, David Elliott Hauschild, known as Jesusbuddy on Reddit. “I feel like I’m sitting at the top of the world’s biggest social experiment,” says the 49-year-old, Southern California-based real estate worker, who is also a father of four.

As a regular Reddit user, Hauschild was mindful to bide his time and get a low number. While it might seem many button-pushers would follow a similar strategy to get a low number, there’s no accurate stereotype to fit the phenomenon’s demographic. For instance, Erin Wiggins, a 24-year-old college student in Bowling Green, Ohio (known as swishyfeather on Reddit), watched the clock for just two minutes before pressing the button, also at :27 remaining — and even then only hit it because her favorite color is yellow.

Shortly after launching the button, Reddit introduced “flair” tags, which show up next to users’ names on the site and denote how long the user waited before pressing. Starting with gray for non-pressers and moving up the spectrum to red for the longest waiters, the flairs have turned into status symbols for users on Reddit’s discussion forums. Still, that didn’t matter to Wiggins.

“I had it in mind to just [go for the] color yellow from the beginning, because I really like that color,” she says. So when she woke up on the morning of her birthday and saw the clock dip into the :20s, she made her move.

It’s anybody’s guess — and there are plenty listed on Reddit — what will happen when the timer gets to zero. “One of my favorites is that once it reaches zero, it’ll just start doing the same, but counting up to 60,” says Stevens, a theory as good as any, considering this fascinating time-waster was introduced on April Fools’ Day.

And there’s also the question of when The Button will actually go unpressed. To press the button, you must have had a Reddit account prior to April 1, and since users can only press the button once, it can’t go on forever — assuming everyone with an account chooses to press it eventually, anyway. Stevens estimates it can last for another month or two at most, though Hauschild thinks that some tech-savvy users have tricks up their sleeves. “There’s autobots that are set to go nuclear once that thing gets to 11 seconds,” he says.

Snakehawk37, also known as Joshua Nazirbage, isn’t one of these code-armed clock snipers. A 24-year-old medical student living in the Bronx, the third 27-second record holder had little time to press the button, and even less to be interviewed for this story. “I also have no clue why ‘The Button’ has taken off the way it has,” he said in a quick email.

As for Reddit administrators themselves, they aren’t revealing anything about The Button, other than what’s listed on the diversion’s page. And though they declined to comment when pressed for further details, they did send along this GIF:

I wonder if it’s some sort of clue.

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