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Deception Hurts

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Nobody likes being tricked. And when you find out that you’ve been tricked for an extended period of time, you always wish you hadn’t learned the truth. You long for the blissful ignorance of yore! Brace yourself for this: the Door Close button on most elevators DOESN’T WORK.

I found out that I (along with countless others, I’m sure) have been living among the web of lies created by designers of elevators. Ok, maybe calling it a web of lies is a bit dramatic. But, after reading this article from the New Yorker (sorry, I’m a year late), I was saddened to learn that elevators are designed to give people a false sense of control. In a discussion about the downsides to smart elevator systems, Nick Paumgarten writes,

Smart elevators are strange elevators, because there is no control panel in the car; the elevator knows where you are going. People tend to find it unnerving to ride in an elevator with no buttons; they feel as if they had been kidnapped by a Bond villain. Helplessness may exacerbate claustrophobia. In the old system—board elevator, press button—you have an illusion of control; elevator manufacturers have sought to trick the passengers into thinking they’re driving the conveyance. In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer. Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command.

As a self-proclaimed design aficionado, this shouldn’t come as a shock to me. Design and manipulation are often times the same thing. I think it’s a failure to notice or know about this on my own, however, that has me feeling let down. I really don’t think twice about riding elevators. And though it’s the source of some peoples’ phobias, I generally trust that I’m going to make it to my destination unharmed. The things that I do think about while riding elevators usually involve the design of the interface (which side are the buttons on? how easy is it to locate the button that corresponds to your destination? etc.) A question I never bothered to ask, however, was whether or not I could control the opening and closing of the door.

We (people) really are control freaks, huh? Can you think of any other examples of adult security blankets?

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Written by beckyquintal

March 15, 2009 at 10:07 pm

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