Hit the mute button: why everyone is trying to silence the outside world

Uber is trialling a feature that allows customers to stop their drivers from talking. But there’s growing evidence that cutting ourselves off like this isn’t healthy

The mute button was invented in 1956 by Robert Adler, an Austrian-born engineer working for the Zenith Radio Corporation in Chicago. It was one of the four buttons on his Space Command 400, the first commercially viable TV remote control. The other three buttons – on/off, channel up and channel down – might have seemed more vital, but Adler’s boss, Eugene F McDonald, a former naval intelligence officer who was nicknamed “The Commander”, had insisted on mute.

“He hated commercials,” Adler recalled in 1987. McDonald feared these constant intrusions would kill the new medium of TV. So Zenith boasted that the mute button would allow viewers to “shut off the sound of long, annoying commercials”.

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