This past week, two stories about elevators were in the news. The first was an interesting piece from Bloomberg/Businessweek Business Exchange about what body posture reveals about elevator riders and their attitudes. In the piece, entitled “Need A Lift?” author Tim Murphy writes:
Every day in New York, people take 30 million elevator rides in 58,000 elevators, according to the trade group National Elevator Industry. It’s a weird nonmoment in which strangers share a tiny space. “We silently agree that the other people don’t exist,” says Tonya Reiman, author of The Power of Body Language. According to Dario Maestripieri, a University of Chicago behavioralist and author of the forthcoming The Biology of Everyday Life, this instinct is deeply rooted. “Being in a restricted space with strangers is tension-provoking,” he says. “So we do unconscious things to minimize the risk of conflict, like not making eye contact. If you put monkeys in a small cage, they avoid each other.”
Murphy then goes on to recap the results of a survey based on elevator rider postures, which fell into 10 basic categories:
- 41%: Awkward Cell-Thumber (despite frequent “no signal” zones within elevators)
- 14%: The Arm-Crosser
- 12%: The George Costanza (define as someone unnecessarily ruffling through personal belongs in a vain attempt to appear busy and deflect unwanted conversation or interaction)
- 6%: The Mumbler
- 6%: The Yoga Master
- 5%: Hands-in-Pockets Person
- 5%: The Adam and Eve (the undeniable–and unnecessary–urge to protect vulnerable body parts)
- 4%: The Door-Gunner
- 4%: Mr. Uptight (very upright body posture, distant aloof from everyone; see below)
- 3%: The Wall-Leaner
- Serial Hummers
- Big Exhalers
- Pigeon-Toed Standers
- Convex Pelvis Riders
The other interesting elevator based story in the news this week comes from the world of Robert Krulwich, part of the Radiolab team at NPR. Recently, Radiolab has been examining the concept of falling, which inspired Krulwich’s piece explaining the safest way to survive a free fall in an elevator.
So Krulwich went to the library on our behalf. His research on the subject pointed him in the direction of Mary Roach’s book, Packing for Mars.
[T]he best way to survive in a falling elevator is to lie down on your back. Sitting is bad but better than standing, because buttocks are nature’s safety foam. Muscle and fat are compressible: they help absorb the G forces of the impact.
As for jumping up in the air just before the elevator hits bottom, it only delays the inevitable. Plus, then you might be squatting when you hit. In a 1960 Civil Aeromedical Research Institute study, squatting on a drop platform caused “severe knee pain” at relatively low G forces. “Apparently the flexor muscles … acted as a fulcrum to pry open the knee joint,” the researchers noted with interest and no apparent remorse.