The Psychology of Lifts

Observations of culture, human beings, and little metal boxes

As an observer of people, concepts and thoughts, sometimes I like to not say too much and take the timd out to take things in instead. Rarely are these wonders and ponders anything life-changing or newsworthy that will appear in the tabloids, but I have never cared much for the stories the media highlights.

As much as I know the media does affect and alter us all, I would prefer to not let myself go completely by becoming totally consumed by mediated stories, and only these stories. It is a simple concept just listen, but simple concepts don’t always translate in real life. The struggle is real, choosing between speaking and listening; I am hesitant to believe that both can be given full attention at the same time. Speaking can supress the ability to listen. But upon these quieter days of mine, the ones of observing, I have noticed a repeating theme in the cultural differences in lifts.

Britain — the nation of awkwardness, politeness and apologies for things that are not our fault. If you have entered a lift in Britain, you will know all about the temporary enclosed box where approximately 2 to 10 strangers stand in awkwardness like no other. We Brits don’t go for the American stance associated with lifts (or elevators) which, if you have never been to the states, is standing face forwards and only forwards.

I don’t know how noticeable this observation is, but I would like to think I am not the only one. And seen as most people step into lifts as observers, unless they are with company and are probably speaking over everybody else’s quiet time, this is a likely thing to observe. Expanding on this brief observation, it fascinates me that something differing in culture can change something as simple as our lift behaviour.

Instead of facing the doors of the lift like Americans do, we locate ourselves spontaneously. Forwards, backwards, sideways. We are the thorn in our own rose, self-inflicting the awkwardness prompted by being inches away from strangers — face to face, causing eye strain from moving them in every possible direction searching for a sight less intimate. If we had America’s approach to lifts, we would be safe, zero eye contact and fool proof way of using the back of a strangers head as a creative thinking canvas to distract ourselves from the quietness of the lift. Alas, this is not our experience with lifts.

After growing up in this culture of lifts, you can see where my confusion came from when I stepped into an elevator in America for the first time. As social conformity goes, I too faced forward, looking around, wondering what the heck was happening. I found my own mental disapproval interesting, because back in Britain, looking around at every person in the lift was the most avoided part of the short journey from floor to floor, yet somehow I found myself craving connection from something inside this silent metal box. And I had an inkling the other 6 passengers did too.

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