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Elevator Awkwardness Explained

You stand there silently, reach awkwardly past people to push buttons, and immediately end any conversation you were having as soon as a new person comes into the elevator. But why?

smithsonian.com

Image: K2

Aerosmith made elevators look way cooler than they actually are. Their version goes something like this:

Of course, you know what an elevator is like in reality. It’s super awkward. You stand there silently, reach awkwardly past people to push buttons and immediately end any conversation you were having as soon as a new person comes into the elevator.

But why are we so bad at riding in elevators without descending into pre-pubescent awkwardness? Well, there are a few reasons, and the BBC has some of them:

“You don’t have enough space,” says Professor Babette Renneberg, a clinical psychologist at the Free University of Berlin.

“Usually when we meet other people we have about an arm’s length of distance between us. And that’s not possible in most elevators, so it’s a very unusual setting. It’s unnatural.”

And not everyone really likes the idea of being trapped in a big metal box dangling by a few cables as you shoot up or down a building. The BBC again:

“In the back of our minds we are a little anxious,” says Nick White, an office worker in New York who was unfortunate enough to be trapped in a lift for 41 hours.

“We don’t like to be locked into a place. We want to get out of the elevator as soon as possible, because, you know, it’s a creepy place to be.”

Of course, elevators are exceptionally safe. In fact, they’re one of the safest forms of transportation available. The Huffington Post writes:

ConsumerWatch.com reported that elevator accidents that result in death are very rare — about 27 a year — though injuries from elevator accidents affect about 10,200 people a year.

However, the LA Times calculated that elevators make about 18 billion trips a year, so the fatality rate from elevator accidents works out to about 0.00000015 percent per trip.

So while they might be awkward, they’re certainly not all that dangerous.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Get a Lift From Folkway’s Songs About Elevators
What Is the Tallest Structure Humans Could Build?

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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