Human behavior in elevators is endlessly fascinating and so is this tidbit about social organization in elevators from an ethnographic study of elevator users.
Yet, moving back to the interaction with elevator interior design elements, it was noticed that interaction went hand-in-hand with social organisation. As a result of 30 elevator journeys (15 in each building) a clear social order could be seen regarding where people positioned themselves inside the elevators and how they interacted with the design features, such as mirrors and monitors. More senior men in particular seemed to direct themselves towards the back of the elevator cabins. In front of them were younger men, and in front of them were women of all ages. Men watched the monitors, looked in the side mirrors (in one building) to see themselves, and in the door mirrors (of the other building) to also watch others. Women would watch the monitors and avoid eye contact with other users (unless in conversation) and the mirrors. It was only when the women travelled with other women, and just a few at that, that women elevator users would utilise the mirrors. One interviewee even mentioned that she only looked in the mirrors when there was no one else in the elevator.
As a mathematician who works at Otis elevators, Theresa Christy can tell you pretty much everything you want to know about humans and elevators (except why some functional adults still haven’t gotten the message that you let people out before you get in). How long are we willing to wait? How many of us will safely fit into an elevator? And does that close doors button really do anything? The WSJ on: The Ups and Downs of Making Elevators Go.
The challenges she deals with depend on the place. At a hotel in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, she has to make sure that the elevators can clear a building quickly enough to get most people out five times a day for prayer.
In Japan, riders immediately want to know which car will serve them — indicated by a light and the sound of a gong — even if the elevator won’t arrive for 30 seconds. That way, people can line up in front of the correct elevator.
Stephen Fry decided to start his own reality chat show yesterday after becoming stuck in an elevator. Here’s the show’s opening monologue, a photo of the cast, and thoughts from the audience. The ratings look pretty good so far.
This timelapse video of man trapped in an elevator for 41 hours is difficult to watch. The video accompanies an article in the New Yorker about elevators.
White has the security-camera videotape of his time in the McGraw-Hill elevator. He has watched it twice-it was recorded at forty times regular speed, which makes him look like a bug in a box. The most striking thing to him about the tape is that it includes split-screen footage from three other elevators, on which you can see men intermittently performing maintenance work. Apparently, they never wondered about the one he was in. (Eight McGraw-Hill security guards came and went while he was stranded there; nobody seems to have noticed him on the monitor.)
The end of White’s story is heartbreaking. On the plus side, the article also discusses a favorite social phenomenon of mine, how strangers space themselves in elevators.
If you draw a tight oval around this figure, with a little bit of slack to account for body sway, clothing, and squeamishness, you get an area of 2.3 square feet, the body space that was used to determine the capacity of New York City subway cars and U.S. Army vehicles. Fruin defines an area of three square feet or less as the “touch zone”; seven square feet as the “no-touch zone”; and ten square feet as the “personal-comfort zone.” Edward Hall, who pioneered the study of proxemics, called the smallest range — less than eighteen inches between people — “intimate distance,” the point at which you can sense another person’s odor and temperature. As Fruin wrote, “Involuntary confrontation and contact at this distance is psychologically disturbing for many persons.”
Pruned takes us on a short tour of grain elevators. Wonderful old industrial buildings…the small town I grew up in had a huge grain elevator rising from the center of town, like a skyscraper in a cornfield.
I stand alone in the elevator, right in the middle, equidistant from the four walls. Before the doors close, a woman enters. Unconsciously, I move over to make room for her. We stand side by side with equal amounts of space between the two of us and between each of us and the walls of the elevator. On the 12th floor, a man gets on and the woman and I slide slightly to the side and to the back, maximizing the space that each of us occupies in the elevator. At the 14th floor, another man gets on. The man in front steps to the back center and the woman and I move slightly toward the front, forming a diamond shape that again maximizes each person’s distance from the elevator walls and the people next to them.
It reminds me of cell division in an embryo or the arrangement of atoms in a molecule. Just as the cells and atoms know how to position themselves for maximum efficiency at a minimum size, humans know how to balance the need to collectively occupy an enclosed area and give each person his/her own space.
Update: Stewart sends in a link to Scott Snibbe’s Boundary Functions, an art project which makes explicit a person’s social space among others:
Boundary Functions is realized as a set of lines projected from overhead onto the floor which divide each person in the gallery from one another. With one person in the gallery there is no response. When two are present, there is a single line drawn halfway between them segmenting the room into two regions. As each person moves, this line dynamically changes, maintaining an even distance between the two. With more than two people, the floor becomes divided into cellular regions, each with the mathematical quality that all space within the region is closer to the person inside than any other.