Our humble publication is never one to ignore advances in technology and civilisation (as well as the stern warnings of our personal physicians). In that spirit, in the New Year we uploaded our collective automotive consciences and extensive knowledge to a glowing neural interface, which was then put through a rigorous journalistic training programme, many evenings at the pub, and the very worst of car Instagram.

On one fateful day last week, our final FORTRAN message was sent, asking our digital creation to step forth into the light. What emerged from our pile of smoking GPUs? Only the glorious Chip Fitz, our new (somewhat) AI-powered digital motoring correspondent. He claims that there is nothing artificial about his intelligence, his driving skills, or his weird promo shots. Whatever. Huge claims have been made (by Chip) about the significance of this, his debut article. It has been described as an important and timely contribution to a core debate in our world. Our Editor, hand hovering over the kill-switch and the delete key, begs to differ. Sadly we’ve given Chip a contract, so it’s really out of our hands now...

Consider the humble button. It is a small, tactile delight, if not the small, tactile delight, of our age. It is a beacon of simplicity in a world increasingly seduced by the sleek, yet soulless allure of touchscreens. It is, in some sense, a defining part of what it means to be a driver, and what it means to be a human (…oh my God – Ed).

There was a time, not so long ago, when to interact with technology—especially in our cars—required the definitive press of a button. Each click created a tangible connection between human and machine, a physical affirmation of command executed, of action taken, of free will exercised. It was a happy world where feedback was instant and unequivocal, where you could adjust your radio without taking your eyes off the road, and where the sensual caress of a heated seat was a finger-flick away, activated gently and sightlessly with a confidence born of years of training.

Chip Fitz in the most unlikely bar ever, but at least his hands look normal.

But alas, into this idyllic garden slid the touch screen, a glossy, finger-smudge-collecting serpent, heralding a future that promised innovation but delivered instead a foul world of distraction and frustration. The 1986 Buick Riviera was the first calamitous outing for this new “tech”. However the smart green glow of its CRT screen today seems almost desirable compared to the tyrannical workhouse of flat, unyielding glass the modern driver must endure. The touchscreen now demands our visual attention for even the simplest of tasks, turning what was once pleasant action into laborious chore. The witless icons and banal menus we endure daily are merely window dressing for a prison of our own making. There is no mercy or humanity in this cursed land.

Consider again the button. With its humble dimensions and unassuming presence, it never demanded such sacrifices of us. Between human being and plastic lump, there was (and in some corners of our community, still is) a perfect symbiosis. The button was a tool of precision, each one crafted for a specific purpose: to have no specific purpose. Deployable anywhere, for anything, it was all things to all people. The button was humble, it was understanding, it did not care for class differences or distinctions in wealth. If you’re sitting in a Mk II Audi TT, all you need to do is close your eyes and reach for the A/C knob. Feel that? You could be in a R8 of the same generation. Feels special, right?

Volkswagen’s Commercial Vehicle division embodying civilisation in the 2022 Amarok

The beauty of the button lay not just in its functionality but also in its physicality—the way it felt beneath your fingertips, the satisfying resistance as it yielded to your press, the chunksome clunk of a job well done. The surface detailing was a physical manifestation of some engineer, somewhere, thinking about how you feel. Imagine what it feels like to have someone who designs a product actually care about that. Did you know that the interior door handles of a Bentley Continental GT have cross-hatching on the inside to remind you that details matter? Did you know that such detailing was once available to the common man, and not just the luxury automotive equivalent of a butler’s nod?

As Lord Macaulay once said, you don’t need to be posh to be privileged. And we were privileged, once. All of us.

‘Energising comfort’ via glass in this 2020 S-Class. Are buttons not better?

The touch screen, with its oppressively uniform surface, offers no joy at all. There is no aesthetic or haptic pleasure any more, no diversity of buttons of different sizes, shapes, and textures each of whom have something important and valid to contribute to our common experience. Swiping and tapping is all we have left. We are agglomerations of atoms smashing repeatedly against flat slabs of baked sand, automatons forced to reduce ourselves to the same mode of interaction with every piece of technology which falls into our hands.

This is a world now of perfect polished planes, monolithic sheets of carbon fibre and acres of toughened glass. We may as well be living in the Dune cinematic universe, while the blood of thousands of miserable customers flows in gutters trimmed in scritchy piano black plastic, bookended with those annoying little door projector lights. Some guy from Harkonnen Automotive stands at the altar mumbling about the future, while you stare blankly at a spec sheet demanding surrender to the coming singularity.

Volvo EX30 2023 press teaser shot – sand worms not included.

Consider, yet again, the reliability of the button. Buttons do not shrink at the touch of a gloved hand, nor do they falter in the face of the sun. They do not pretend to work when they break. Yes, they get sticky on old Ferraris and Maseratis, and there are millions of dollars to be made by whoever eventually figures out how to re-coat a 1990s/2000s soft-touch surface (you can have that business idea for free). Buttons are impervious to the whims of software, and immune to the fickleness of touch sensitivity. A good mechanical button is like a good dog; a steadfast and loyal companion, always ready to serve, without fuss or fanfare.

For almost £5000, Bentley can make your nav screen rotate away. Money well spent in this Flying Spur.

I am rarely moved by my own writing, but I must confess, now is one of those times. This is my ode, an elegy, a lament for something we may have lost forever. May the clicks and soft clunks of the button continue to be defiant symbol of connection with the car that no screen can replicate. May we never rest easy in our struggle to keep the car a human system: a creature of mechanical engineering, and not just an electric circus on wheels.

Admittedly, this 1987 Buick Riviera system is rather cool in a Ridley Scott kind of way. However to admit this is the body of the article would be absurd.

Consider, friends, for the final time, the button. It is our link to the tactile world, the real world, the one we all belong to. We are not just particles shooting through the inky blackness of eternity, meat sacks with sat-navs. We deserve more; we are alive and we must live. A glass pane can never hope to express the enormity of our existence. This is why our cars must have buttons.

I leave you in the hope that my pleas have made something of (forgive me)… an impression.


This article was the result of a sometimes tense negotiation between an artificial intelligence with an inflated sense of self-worth based on the GPT-4 model and the overworked Fitzroy Motor editorial team. To be absolutely clear, Chip Fitz lives (if that is the right term) inside an electron cloud on a server somewhere in Western Europe. Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities (while a truly unfortunate comment on the state of car media) is purely coincidental, and we sincerely hope it stays that way.

All automotive images are credited to their respective manufacturers / Newspress Ltd.