The month of July is rich in national festivities. Bastille Day in France, Independence Day in America.
If you haven’t been to Paris on 14 July, I urge you to go. It’s glorious: fireworks erupt, crowds cheer, street bands blare, strangers embrace, the army parades, patriotic films roll.
There is another red calendar day in July, however: 27 July, the “Talk in an elevator day”.
I was not aware of this global holiday until an esteemed lift manufacturer asked me to write about it. So, to compensate for several decades of ignoring the “Talk in an elevator day”, I offer you this commemorative column.
The lift manufacturer conducted a survey. I read it. I marvelled at it. Here is the key conclusion, quoted in full: “elevators can provide us with an interesting space to bring people together, create a shared experience that benefits society, and eliminate loneliness”.
Yes. However, the survey continues, “despite seven billion elevator journeys happening every day, two thirds of people won’t speak in a lift”.
The lift journey takes 30 seconds, so I won’t have a lot of time. But if I really like someone, I’ll follow them to the train and we’ll take a ride to work together
The lift manufacturer found a psychology luminary, who offered the following opinion: “there’s nothing better than sharing experiences with people around you”.
Nothing at all? In my Sartre-obsessed early twenties, I lived by the principle “l’enfer, c’est les autres”, or “hell is other people”. I’ve relaxed my position since, although not by much. But now that I’ve read these wise words, I realise the error of my ways.
So here is my back-to-school resolution: I will hit the lifts and try to connect with people. I’m lucky: my local tube station, Holland Park, has two lifts. Two! So much potential, so many opportunities.
Every day, I will ride up and down in the lift, neck to neck with my fellow humans, ready to listen, and offering a shoulder of support. I will “share my experiences”, tell them about my life, my hopes and dreams, my disappointments.
The lift journey takes 30 seconds, so I won’t have a lot of time. But if I really like someone, I’ll follow them to the train and we’ll take a ride to work together.
I saw a guy reading Hamlet in the lift once. What an idiot, wasting time on a dead bloke when he was a nudge in the ribs away from connecting with real people. He looked enthralled, but I’m sure it was just an act: deep down he was dying to talk to his fellow lift-riders. If I see him again, I’ll be sure to save him from his misery.
Dear lift manufacturer, I read a lot of rubbish, but your pitch beats all the records. If two thirds of people don’t talk in lifts, there is a good reason for that. As you rightly point out, loneliness is a problem. However, superficial exchanges with strangers in a suspended container won’t solve it.
According to your research, 17 per cent of people said that they didn’t want to be alone because they were “bored with their own company”. I suspect that they are the ones most likely to attempt “connection” in lifts. But who in their right mind would want to connect with them?
If a miracle happens and, on my next lift journey, I meet someone who spellbinds me, I’ll happily admit ideological defeat. In the meantime, however, what I want from a lift is that it doesn’t break down and has air conditioning. That’s all.