Thursday, October 20, 2016

Illusions of control and superstitions of the non-superstitious

This morning at 9am, like most mornings, I went down to the gym in my building for some cardio. As the door to the elevator opened, I prepared to smile, nod, and wish good morning to the person already in the elevator. I'm not naturally an outgoing or friendly person, so this is one of those micro-improvements of the self that I've decided to undertake.

Vancouver is one of the least friendly/neighbourly cities in North America, so maybe 30% of the time, I do the smile/nod/greet thing, and people awkwardly avert eye contact, or rush to mash the "Close Door" button. I nevertheless am committed to smiling/nodding/greeting not just as a micro-improvement exercise, but also because I believe in a world where people should be -- at a minimum -- cordial with their neighbours. It's not like I feel we need to invite one another over for dinner parties or anything like that; but if we are staying in the same building, we are at least going to see one another regularly, so there might as well be some modicum of positivity in these interactions, right? Right.

So imagine my surprise when as the elevator door opened, the lady in the elevator immediately started mashing the Close Door button. I mean her finger was on the button not just before my vocal cords could warm to form the first syllable of my greeting, but before I had even began my motion to walk through the threshold of the elevator. She didn't so much jump the gun as jumped before the invention of gunpowder.  I am not generally good at hiding my emotions, so I imagine I was quite the sight with my mouth agape and eyes wide open in disbelief. Indeed, when the elevator arrived at the gym floor, she was noticeably slower in putting her finger on the trigger.

The funny thing is that the elevator in this building is actually fairly quick. The lag between the door fully opening and the door auto-closing is perhaps 2-3 seconds, which I consider a solid time. The close door button is functional (as typically the case in newer elevators) but the benefit of pushing is mostly psychological given the short lag time. As I mentioned in a previous entry on elevator manners, it's unlikely that all the elevator button mashing in the world could save much more than one minute per day.  Considering how blatantly unneighbourly and downright stressful trying to mash that button is, it hardly seems like the benefit is worth the cost.

In the end, elevator button mashing (and its cousin, pedestrian crosslight button mashing) is one of those weird illusion-of-control things. It's almost like modern-day superstition for people who aren't superstitious. I don't think that any of the people who mash buttons are say, fearful of black cats, throw salt over their shoulders, or buy balance bracelets. Yet they do this, because it's a tick that makes them feel like they have control, when they really don't.

What are other modern examples of tedious illusions-of-control, or superstitions for the non-superstitious?


2 comments:

  1. I applaud your efforts at social civility and appreciate the value and worthiness of them. Hell, I would LOVE to see the rarely experienced TChan smile. But know this: Pleasantness is truly more to your credit and benefit than the usually ungrateful and often surprised recipients. Sadly, TC, you are a young, fit male and that now seems to carry negative vibes in our society. Had you been wearing a leather jacket she may have tried to mace you. Sadly, you have embarked on being more human at a time when so many are not. But keep it up.
    I, for instance, step back from the door when I knock on it so as to head of potential fear-based responses from someone who sees themselves as a victim. And more and more people are, it seems.
    Just remember: the smile and head-nodding are good for you. Send me a pic.

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