How to Civilize an Elevator

By Jon Miller Updated on June 24th, 2018

As recently as four years ago, my worked involved constant international travel. This is no longer the case. I miss very little of that life. One thing that I do miss is the exposure to other cultures, in particular how humans in various environments choose to communicate visually. It’s always fun to find visual controls that are remarkably ineffective, nonsensical or ambiguous.

This week I am in Shanghai, China. It is a reliable place to stumble across dubious visual controls. The Notice on Safety Riding seems to be a new standard building owners and their appointed elevator maintenance company. This is a set of nine things we are asked to never do, and four countermeasures offered in case of emergencies, that are printed and posted about two meters high to the left of the elevator door. Unfortunately, it’s only at prohibition number two that the rider who has been jumping up and down in an effort to read the safety guidelines will see, “Please do not jump in the running elevator.”

Number seven sounds like it came straight from the Central Committee Edict on Elevating Civilization in Elevators, “Never allow those who are unable to take the civil responsibility for their behaviors to ride elevators.” How on earth is one to determine this about fellow passengers? Beijing is rolling out a social credit score for citizens. Perhaps before long elevator access will be contingent on good social credit and a reputation for civil responsibility

I’m all for Safety Riding, but it’s a lot of words on a page. One would think that a few strategically placed visuals would help get the message across. Sure enough, on the doors facing outwards, the red “forbidden” icons ask us not to play, not to open doors by hand, not to push the buttons with hard or sharp objects, and sadly, not to lean.

Inside the elevators, there are four other visuals to guide the civilized behavior of elevator riders. In these I found encoded an astonishing collection of wisdom.

Don’t be overloaded. The message is that we should avoid muri. Everything has its capacity and operating beyond it for long results in breakdown. We need to recognize and reduce overburden on ourselves, on our family, on our coworkers, and on our systems.

No rushing. Don’t cut corners. Do what needs to be done. Take time needed to do quality work, serve customers and each other. Haste makes waste.

Don’t use body to hold door open. Sometimes the door is opening, sometimes it is closing. Some of us are getting in, some going out. The carriage goes up, the carriage goes down. And again. We may think we can keep the door of opportunity open when it is time to let it close. Ruining our health trying to hold it open is not worth it.

Please attend infant or child. We must take care of our children, and attend to those younger or less experienced than us, if we are build and maintain a safe and responsible civilization.

Or we could live wild, free, and take the stairs.

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