by Selina Wabl

Every once in a while, some members of our society choose to temporarily lock themselves in a cramped, windowless box of cold steel and the occasional ugly carpeting or mirror-lined wall.

Within this box, they are encompassed by the silence of tense people, or are serenaded with banal music that makes the situation all the more dynamically uncomfortable. Subjection to the social ineptitude that occurs within this box comes as a result of a physical disability or a fundamental laziness to walk up or down stairs, and is facilitated by laws that require these boxes in every building. Before, during, and after people enter an elevator, they exhibit a series of intriguing behaviors that provide an insight into the discipline of unsaid rules, regulations and social interactions within our society.

Though the wait time for an elevator is only about fifteen to twenty seconds, waiting for the “ding” or light to go on above the one-and-a half cubic meter travel vessel can seem like an eternity. Chins tucked toward their device-clamping palms, waiters painstakingly feign business to avoid social interaction with someone they could possibly have a dreadful conversation
with. Then, someone rolls up to the waiting scene with an evident mistrust that the lit-up elevator call button has been properly pressed, and hence proceeds to rapidly press it again—silently commending their own brilliant humanitarian effort when the doors open soon after.

Temporary relief of movement seems to
settle in the body language of the agonized waiters. The first few move towards the back of the elevator, or towards the front corner if they are
only traveling up a few floors, and
the rest reliably file into positions as
far away from each other as possible. If their desired floor number is already lit up as they enter, they either press it again or wordlessly take their place facing the door.


 Then the doors shut—sometimes not fast enough for those who have already waited for sixteen excruciating seconds, in which case the person closest to the buttons is expected to repeatedly press the close door button. As the doors of the elevators close, the ambient noise from outside is cut off, welcoming an even louder silence within the human transport device.

Once inside the social-anxiety-ridden box, the next stage of blatant human-to-human disregard begins— but hark! A voice! A distant “Hold the door!” is heard, followed by footsteps rushing towards the elevator. Someone at the front thrusts their hand into the slowly diminishing gap between the doors, selflessly risking a limb for a stranger who they are about to ignore. When the doors fully reopen, a quick “Thank you” and “No worries” is mumbled, and then the elevator once again fades into a silent stupor, as an even more rapid pushing of the close door button occurs. This is of course
accompanied by a plethora of internal
eyerolls from those who have already
spent three times the amount of time
and energy that taking the stairs would have required. The dynamics of
the in-elevator wait to the next floor stop have changed slightly from waiting outside of the elevator: people
are now forced to break the law of the socially acceptable distance between humans, resulting in the need to find other places to rest their gaze. Some
of the most fascinating items for riders to scrutinize are the little screen with the all too slowly changing numbers
of floors, the intricately bland elevator doors, and the person’s own shoelaces, which they are suddenly seeing for the first time in the three years that they have been tying them. 


Co-workers, colleagues, and co-students who just had a class together effectively become strangers, and the slightest  conversation between friends are silenced or hushed. The lack of interaction between even those who know each other again reinforces the social-interaction- stripping nature of the elevator, and also perpetuates that culture within the intimately enclosed space.

Once a person has arrived at their destination, they simply file out of the elevator and continue on as if they had
not actively failed to recognize the existence of another being. A brief farewell would be startling and out of place, especially after most people will have convinced themselves that they were alone in the elevator. The active ignoring and lack of social interaction within an elevator is most likely a result of the human-to-human proximity and quiet nature of the environment— perhaps this closeness of bodies and the silence quiet enough
to hear another person’s thoughts is
too personal already.

An elevator is
a fleeting space of transition, not a
destination, which might give people
less of an incentive to initiate a conversation

Thoughts are more focused on past and future encounters. In a culture in which digital technology prolifically eliminates public social interactions, it seems only fitting that the intricate technology of the magnets, gears, and wires that are concealed in the abyss of an elevator shaft do so as well. As the absurdity of elevator usage by people who are able to use stairs continues without the friendly intent to acknowledge other people, so does the legacy of our culture as one that is void of interpersonal connection.