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How the Elevator Transformed America


(Image: Paramount Pictures)

Gentlemen, let's say that you enter an elevator and find that a lady is present. Should you remove your hat, as you would in a home, or keep it on, as you would if you encountered her on a train?

That was one of many questions considered when elevators arrived in the United States during the 1860s. Leon Neyfakh recently published an article in the Boston Globe about the social history of elevators. He explains that as the car helped Americans expand horizontally, so did the elevator help the nation grow vertically. It also encouraged a new form of mingling between people of different social classes:

Its uniqueness as an environment also has allowed social scientists to use it as a fruitful laboratory for experiments on behavior. One study tested the effect of smiling on people’s willingness to stand near strangers, for instance, while another looked at how men and women choose to situate themselves in relation to each other upon boarding. The distinctiveness of elevators as social spaces is also the reason we speak of an “elevator pitch”—so named after the one place the company CEO might spend 60 seconds as captive audience to an ambitious intern.

For elevator fans like Bernard, Wilk, Gray, and Carrajat, this mixing of worlds is one of the main things that makes elevators so important. And the more opportunities modern life gives us to separate ourselves from others—by getting into our cars and escaping into our suburban homes, by hiding in our cubicles and burying our heads in our social networks—the more the elevator matters as a place that squeezes us together for a moment and forces us to grapple with one another’s existence.

-via Marginal Revolution


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