Few gadgets are more hated than the alarm clock, a device whose primary purpose is to rudely rip you from the pleasant world of sleep into the cold, harsh, unforgiving reality that we live in every day — and whose level of functionality is directly proportional to how goddamn annoying the beeping sound it can make is.
But within virtually all alarm clocks is also a crucial reprieve: the snooze button, a temporary salve for the alarm’s cruel clarion call, a stay of execution for the day you will inevitably have to face. It is the phrase “just a few more minutes” rendered in plastic.
The alarm clock here is a Sharp SPC028B, bought from a Walmart somewhere in Pennsylvania ahead of my time as a sleepaway camp counselor over a decade ago. It has sustained years of use throughout high school, college, and beyond, the lambent red glow of its numbers scarcely dimmed by time or age. It is brutish and ugly, made of plastic that used to be white before the passage of time and repeated blunt force have dulled it to a uniquely hideous shade of gray.
In those years, the snooze button has been punched and pummeled countless mornings, each percussive click granting a few more minutes of silence — just enough time to drift back off to sleep before the cycle starts anew.
It’s no coincidence that snooze buttons are almost always the largest button on an alarm clock. It is not a button for subtlety: it is a button to be blindly fumbled for in the half-lit twilight of a morning come too early, to be smashed with the groggy awareness of someone who stayed up too late binging Netflix the night before. And while I have attempted to destroy my cheap alarm clock on dozens of mornings for committing the cardinal sin of waking me up, the durable plastic of the snooze button has bounced back for another bout each day.
The snooze button’s prominence also makes actually turning off an alarm entirely more deliberate. Mashing snooze is the easiest physical user interaction you can have with an alarm clock, while actually disabling the alarm typically requires switching it off through a far smaller button in a less convenient spot. Because sleeping in for another 10 minutes is fine, but the snooze button wants to protect us from our own worst impulses to kill the alarm entirely and sleep in all day.
It’s a paradigm that still exists even as our alarms have gone digital and become more fragile. When the iPhone’s alarm goes off, the lockscreen’s biggest digital button is a giant, orange snooze button, while the smaller “stop” button is tucked away below. The physical power button also defaults to snooze when an alarm goes off because snooze buttons need to be at their most functional even when we’re at our least.
The snooze button is ultimately a lie — a promise that things can get better, even with the looming truth that even with a few more minutes of sleep, morning always comes. The alarm clock is still a clock, after all, and clocks (and time) only ever run forward.
But sometimes, scant as they might be, the few extra minutes that the snooze button buys can be enough to get your day started on the right — or at least, a better — foot.
Photography by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge