It started as an apparent April Fool's Day internet joke. Not even one of the flashier ones. But it has since morphed into one of the most hilarious and profound existential comments on the entire internet, if not in all of human history.
On April 1st, 2015, at exactly 9 AM Eastern time, an administrator at Reddit published a post on the official blog of the social news website announcing the addition of a new, never-before seen feature: a button. Not just any button. This button—"The Button" as it is now referred to in hallowed terms among Redditors—is affixed to a 60-second countdown clock. Each time someone clicks The Button, the clock resets back to 60 seconds, but The Button can only be clicked once by any given user account, and clicks are restricted to users with accounts created before April 1st.
Therefore, at a certain point, according to rules of the button and the finite number of user accounts with available clicks, the countdown clock will inevitably reach zero. What happens after that is anyone's guess.
But at least as interesting as the mystery of what lies at the end of the timer are the effects The Button has had on Redditors. A deceptively simple but powerful exercise in temptation, The Button has divided Reddit into the pressers—those who feel compelled to click the button and keep the timer going, and non-pressers—those who are urging everyone not to press it anymore because they want to see what lies on the other side. As the top post on the r/button subreddit at this moment, by BandidQueen, reads: "We have not seen it go down to 0000 yet. So don't do it! Fight the urges! Don't be a weakling like me! Reddit won't explode, I swear."
Others who want to keep the clock going are providing their own forms of encouragement: "ATTENTION DON'T FORGET YOU HAVE A BUTTON PRESS ON YOUR PORN ACCOUNT TOO," reads a particularly telling post from another user.
In the hours since The Button appeared, some users claim to have seen it reach zero and then reset, even posting screenshots of their supposed views. However, these could easily be Photoshopped by mischief makers looking to sew further discord and angst among the Redditor ranks, or could just as easily be a temporary view if the page was refreshed (interestingly, even The Independent seemed flummoxed by the appearance of question marks in the countdown clock, but they appeared for me briefly when I refreshed the page, so it's pretty clear that they're just a placeholder until The Button is able to correctly display the current timer value).
In the absence of any concrete ideas, other users have taken to offering their own theories on what The Button may be hiding, everything from Reddit Gold (the website's useless currency), to a systematic Reddit account purging, to the long-awaited announcement of the PC game Half-Life 3.
Sensibly, a few users have examined the source code of The Button's underlying webpage for clues about what it may do. But their sleuthing hasn't revealed much beyond a few nerdy programmer references to The Day The Earth Stood Still and Futurama.
Still others have turned their attention away from the existential questions about The Button and instead embraced its more material entertainments, setting up betting pools and Chrome extensions to alert users when the timer reaches 10 seconds.
Perhaps the single best reaction to the arrival of The Button came from the poor Redditor whose username is "thebutton," who wrote in a sad/hilariously poignant post yesterday, "What on earth is this? I've never gotten so many notifications about my username before." Neither Kierkegaard nor Camus could have put it any better than that. What is the button? The button is everything and the button is nothing. We are all the button and the button is us. The button is the beginning and the end. There is no button. Have a good day.