Being at college for almost four weeks now, I can honestly say that I’ve been in 80+ elevator rides. You know, those awkward 30 seconds where you’re trapped between multiple strangers, eyes glaring at the monitor, hoping it’ll stop at your destination soon. Lets be honest, no one likes the awkward nature of elevator rides and the deadly silence that accompanies these anxious social encounters. Almost every movement is magnified and shared between individuals cramped in a small space (a claustrophobic’s nightmare). I’ve always been curious about the social phenonmeons behind “elevator etiquette”. Why do people choose to stand in certain areas of the elevator? What causes this social anxiety between strangers? Will we ever get over the social fear of elevators?
A study conducted by Rebekah Rousi gave me insight over these daunting questions. Rebekah conducted an elevator study where she participated in 30 elevator rides in the two tallest office buildings in Australia. From this experience, she was able to make conclusions about where people are likely to stand in the elevator, and why. Generally, the front of the elevator would be occupied by women of all ages who would usually avoid eye contact or keep to themselves. Shy individuals would also occupy the front of the elevator, avoiding eye contact with others and keeping their gaze on the monitor above. Behind the women would most often by young men, who spent their time either looking at the other individuals in the elevator, or checking themselves out in the mirror. Additionally, women who were with other women were more likely to check themselves out in the mirror or act socially interactive compared to those women who were by themselves. Seniors or the elderly would most often choose to stand at the rear of the elevator, behind most people.
The findings of this study are particulary interesting, considering those who possess the most “power” in the situation are individuals who are standing towards the back of the elevator. The most vulnerable or introverted individuals are found to be those standing in the front. Is there any causal relationship between one’s personality (introversion/extroversion) on the place where they choose to stand in the elevator? This particular hypothesis would likely be difficult to test, especially since there are mutiple confouding variables (number of people in the elevator, unconscious behavior, mood) that could point to the dependent variable. However, this elevator phenomeon seems to oppose the social phenomenon in our office, workplace, and everyday hustle and bustle. Usually, extroverted people, or individuals who are more likely to demonstrate leadership and management will be geared towards the “front”, whether that be the front of the line in an elementary school class, the front of the bleachers at a sports game, or the front of a highly insurgent poltiical protest.
Nowadays, it’s very unlikely that much social interaction will occur in the elevator. Think about it, when is the last time you striked up a meaningful conversation with a stranger while you were in the lift? Oliver Burkeman exemplifies the terrible nature of the elevator and reccommends that you avoid them as much as possible. He also recounts the fact that he has never engaged in a truly captivating conversation with a stranger in the elevator. Not only is the experience uncomfortable and gut wrenching, there are amidst unspoken elevator cues that are still up in the air. What do you do when you’re talking to a friend and then you enter an elevator? Is it okay to continue the conversation, aware that multiple strangers will be forced to listen to your interaction, or should the right thing to do be to stop the conversation altogether? When is apologizing for bumping into someone multiple times due to the high volume of individuals in the elevator be too much? Can you apologize to a stranger for unknowingly getting to second base with them? These are the real questions we still have yet to answer.
Let’s not forget the truly traumatic incident that Kylie Jenner went through a couple days ago when she was trapped in the elevator for a whopping 15 minutes. She documented the entire ordeal on her social media platforms, particularly on Snapchat. How did she do it? How did she survive such a harrowing experience? Looks like we’ll have to find out in her next memoir.
Primer has some comforting words about dealing with elevator rides, and emphasizing the confidence one must possess when dealing with socially awkward situations as a whole. After all, you control what affects you and your behavior. Take pride in your individualtity and don’t make a situation awkward if it doesn’t have to be. The next time you’re in a elevator, simply smile at a stranger and know that the interaction will be over before you know it and if the awkwardness is truly too much to handle, find comfort in the fact that you probably will never see them again.
Happy Elevator riding!