There is a theory regarding the way we interact with the world and people around us. When we are with certain friends, we wear a different mask than the one we wear around family. When we are in public, we wear another mask, possibly one that’s a bit more reserved than around familiar faces. These “masks” reflect different approaches to communicating with people. Although most of them have shared traits, there is one that is certainly more standoffish than others – the mask you wear in the elevator.
A recent program on NPR spoke to this topic – why are we so reserved in elevators? The expert on the program – an elevator historian named Lee Gray – discussed the history of elevators in western culture, and why many act so strangely in elevators. The primary reason – it’s a very small space:
“…it looks like a room, although it’s a very, very small one. And we all know how we behave in rooms. We give each other an appropriate amount of little polite social distance between ourselves. And that’s all fine until we’re in the tiny, tiny room – that’s the elevator.”
Gray goes on to say that we move within elevators based on the number of people inside. For example, we might stand in the center if we are alone, but as more people enter, we space out among the cabin to give everyone equal room. What’s interesting is how Western culture’s sense of personal space affects our attitudes in elevators:
“If you notice how, you know, two Americans who don’t know each other hold a conversation, almost at arms-length from each other. You know, we’re very comfortable that way. So in the elevator we try to – partly for ourselves and also out of courtesy to others, sort of, maintain that same distance.”
How do you act in commercial elevators?