The snooze button is the best part of the world’s most hated gadget

Few gadgets are more hated than the alarm clock, a device whose primary purpose is to grossly tear you from the comfortable world of sleep into the cold, harsh, relentless reality we live in every day – and whose level of functionality is directly proportional to how damn annoying the beep it can make is.

But within virtually every alarm clock, there is also a crucial delay: the snooze button, a temporary salvo to the alarm’s cruel clarion call, a failure to execute for the day you inevitably have to face. It’s the phrase “just a few more minutes” rendered in plastic.

The alarm clock here is a Sharp SPC028B, purchased from a Walmart somewhere in Pennsylvania prior to my time as a sleepaway camp counselor over ten years ago. It has been in use for many years through high school, college, and beyond, and its lame red glow has hardly been dampened by time or age. It’s raw and ugly, made of plastic that used to be white before the passage of time, and repeated blunt force has dulled it to a uniquely heinous shade of gray.

In these years, the snooze button has been hit and hit countless mornings, where each percussive click has given a few minutes of silence more – just enough time to fall asleep again before the cycle starts again.

It is no coincidence that snooze buttons are almost always the largest button on an alarm clock. It’s not a button for subtlety: it’s a button to be blindly fumbled for in the half-lit twilight on a morning that comes too early, to be smashed with the groggy awareness of someone who got up too late and binged Netflix the night before. And while I’ve been trying to ruin my cheap alarm clock dozens of mornings for committing the cardinal sin of waking me up, the slumber button’s durable plastic has returned to yet another fight every day.

The prominent position of the snooze button actually makes it more deliberate to turn off an alarm. Mashing snooze is the easiest physical user interaction you can have with an alarm clock, while actually disabling the alarm typically requires you to turn it off via a much smaller button in a less convenient location. Because it’s fine to sleep for another 10 minutes, but the snooze button wants to protect us from our own worst impulses to turn off the alarm completely and sleep all day.

It is a paradigm that still exists, even though our alarms have become digital and more fragile. When the iPhone’s alarm goes off, the lock’s largest digital button is a giant orange snooze button, while the smaller “stop” button is tucked away at the bottom. The physical on / off button is also standard for snoozing when an alarm goes off, because snooze buttons need to be most functional, even when we are least.

The snooze button is ultimately a lie – a promise that things can get better, even with the threatening truth that even with a few minutes of sleep, the morning always comes. After all, the alarm clock is still a clock, and clocks (and time) only move forward.

But sometimes, no matter how small they may be, the extra minutes that the snooze button buys can be enough to get your day started on the right – or at least better – foot.

Photograph by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge

Leave a Comment