Why Are Elevator Rides So Awkward?

The BBC has a short piece on the psychology of elevator crowding, which leads to awkward moments (almost for everyone):

Conversations that have been struck up in the lobby tend to be extinguished quite quickly in the thick atmosphere of the office elevator. We walk in and usually turn around to face the door.

If someone else comes in, we may have to move. And here, it has been observed that lift-travellers unthinkingly go through a set pattern of movements, as predetermined as a square dance.

On your own, you can do whatever you want – it’s your own little box.

If there are two of you, you take different corners. Standing diagonally across from each other creates the greatest distance.

When a third person enters, you will unconsciously form a triangle (breaking the analogy that some have made with dots on a dice). And when there is a fourth person it’s a square, with someone in every corner. A fifth person is probably going to have to stand in the middle.

Want to make the elevator experience even more awkward? Do what Julien Smith suggests in this Homework Assignment post:

Although there is nothing inherently complex about this assignment, I assure you that, for most, it will be among the most difficult things you do.

Society aligns itself in certain ways. Your body reacts certain ways to stimulus inside society to keep everyone in line, to keep everyone moving in the same direction, to make sure that everyone feels comfortable.

Facing in the right directions has deep implications for people’s sense of personal space and comfort. By performing this assignment you are going against all of those things. It isn’t going to be easy. But that’s ok. You should do it anyway.

For this exercise, find any elevator in a crowded place this weekend.

When the door opens, wait until everyone else has entered or exited. Be sure to be the last person to enter, and when you do, face in the opposite direction as everyone else.

I haven’t been brave enough to take upon this homework assignment just yet, even if I get inside an elevator five days a week.

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