• On a recent Friday afternoon, I was sent on a priority mission to the SFU Vancouver campus to deliver a forgotten item to my spouse. The campus is small, but for newcomers such as myself, its maze-like structure is confusing, so after circling its premises a couple times, and realizing I needed a different floor, I was pleased to spot an alcove leading to an elevator.

    As I entered the small hallway, I came upon two adult-looking characters who appeared to be having a serious discussion. The gentleman of the two eyed me for a tiny moment with what I was sure was a sigh of frustration that his private conversation was being invaded by a gangly elevator-seeker.

    I was sheepish to be causing such distress, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I only needed to go up one floor, and then—with my urgent errand still pressing on my shoulders—I would quickly depart and discontinue my disruption of my fellow hallway-dwellers’ lives.

    But my hopes to save the two conversers from my intrusion was impeded as I realized that I did not know if the established elevator-waiters had called our conveyance to travel in same direction as I needed; the answer, I realized, would be housed on the faces of the elevator buttons.

    As I scanned our little area for the location of the vital technology, a terrible epiphany landed in my rushed contemplations. My two aggrieved colleagues, who were clustered close to the elevator doors, were blocking my sightline. My errand could not sustain the weight of an extra wait if my fellow elevated travelers were planning to go in the wrong direction, so very carefully, I peered around the two chatters, but their hand-gesturing bodies continued to block my view.

    At that moment, I felt a wild hope that the two button-concealers might spot my interest in the secret information, and either move themselves out of the way, or let me know of the elevator’s current status.

    My dream was not to be; the strange strangers continued their important chat with no further acknowledgement of my annoying presence. There was nothing more for me to do but stand and wait in hopes that the noble chiming of the elevator would soon end our impassioned impasse.

    But as several more ticks of the clock sounded in my ears, it seemed to me that the elevator was taking an unnaturally long time to arrive for duty. My chances of completing my delivery in time were now small, but I still had to try, so I risked more awkwardness, and circled around the two elevator-blocking strangers. I hoped to get a better angle on the obstructed buttons so that I could confirm that my new associates’ body language was telling the truth and they had indeed called for our deliverer. It was a long trip around the humanoid barricade, but when I finally got to the other side of the whispering duo, I found a tiny gap between their presence and the wall. I looked through and discovered that the elevator button light was not on at all.

    Could it really be? Had these two conversers really witnessed me peering past them without feeling any obligation to let me know that—despite their body language to the contrary—they were not there for the elevator, and that I should reach around them and hit the button, myself, if I wanted to take a ride?

    No, surely the reason the elevator button was not shining a light on our situation was because its bulb had broken. In spite of this obvious solution to the mystery of the elevator blockers, the clock in my head continued to tick ever so loudly, and so, sheepishly once more, I reached my hand into the narrow space between the strangers and the elevator wall in pursuit of the unlit button. I felt rude as I went for it, as it seemed to me that—by redundantly pressing a button that obviously just had a broken light—I was accusing the irritated pair of lacking any common courtesy. But then my finger activated the curious elevator trigger, and it lit up.

    I looked again at the pair who had done their best to keep me away from this revelation; maybe now they would realize their error in body language, but, no, they did not waver from their lack of concern about their effect on the hurried stranger in their private conversation chamber.

    Seconds later, the elevator arrived, and as I boarded, the solution to this strange riddle of human behaviour blazed in my brain like the shining light from the elevator button. It was a wild speculation, but once I considered it, I realized that no other explanation could possibly account for the odd inability of these individuals to understand the most basic laws of human interaction. And so, as I arrived too late to my destination, I was not sad, for I had, on my journey, received the experience of a lifetime. I had met two strangers who were not humans at all: they must have been androids. I smiled as I lingered in this realization; for I knew I would never forget my meeting with these nearly human marvels of technology.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 11:07 AM

  • 5 Responses

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    • Tom Durrie Says:

      I can’t help but wonder why you just didn’t say Excuse me but are you waiting for the elevator?
      Or, less politely, Excuse but will get the F out of the way!

    • Tarrin Says:

      Completely irrational conclusion. Androids were programmed with basic elevator etiquette skills long ago!

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thank you, Tom and Tarrin.

      Tom: yes, I too wondered why I didn’t directly open up about my confusion. But, you see, the pace of the elevator brinkmanship was so gradual that by the time I realized where my enemies of waiting had taken me, it felt too late to say something.

      Tarrin: well put, that was prejudiced of me to assume androids don’t have those skills.

    • Erik Says:

      I’m with Tom, you should have said something. You can’t always rely on the kindness of others. Sometimes you have to be rude to rude people.

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thanks Erik. Yes, others beyond you and Tom have made the same argument that my passivity is largely to blame for the awkward result presented in this story. However, while that may be true in part, I think the biggest problem is in the writing of the piece. I think I’ve failed to capture that gradual nature of my acquisition of understanding of the true nature of the elevator blockers. I kept, that is, assuming that the blockers were only at X level of rudeness, only to discover X + 1, and then X + 2, and so on. If I had known they were X + 10 from the start I would have happily been more assertive.

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