The ‘Undo’ Button

When we interact, we gesture. We also flub. The lack of an undo button for real life has vexed many a geek, as well as golfers. Golfers made up a rule to fix it – the mulligan. Geeks made up a button.

Oh, dearest ctrl-Z (or, command-Z). How little I would get done if I could undo everything I regret. How many fewer stumbles. Also, (like the custom-matched paint that didn’t match, but I couldn’t return it this weekend) how many fewer expenses, if I could ctrl-Z my mistakes.

Recalls, redactions and recantations (as well as the newly popular ‘walking-back’ of a comment, as if it’s something on a leash), all are our attempts to ‘undo’ something that may have been a genuine goof, and may have initially seemed brilliant, but on reflection, not so much.

With tech, often, you can truly undo, except with gestural interfaces (I really didn’t want to click on that ad in the NYT – I just wanted to scroll the page down…).

Bruce Sterling (Beyond the Beyond, 05.26.11) brought to attention usability guru Don Norman’s comments about gestural interfaces and usability and pointed out that we’re only at the start of the issue, once you factor in 3D objects and oh, say, a Kinnect interface. (I wouldn’t sneeze whilst editing until we can undo it….)

Some other interfaces that lack an undo button (for better or worse):

– email.
– digital image sharing.
– twitter. (yes you can delete. Newp, that’s not the same thing.)
– voting. (re: recalls, also not the same thing.)
– bridesmaid dress selections.
– that thing you said at the party that you wish you hadn’t said.
– press releases.
– anything that appears on
– first impressions.

I wonder what things would be like if we could ‘undo’ any one of these, and not undo something else in its place.



  1. The horror I’ve experienced (not recently!) of hitting that “send” button on e-mail too swiftly.

    You’d need a time machine to fix such mistakes.

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