Imagine you enter a building and get on an elevator bound for the tenth floor. And someone else gets in and presses the button for the second floor. You begin a process of silent rage, cursing them for adding an additional stop to your elevator trip, just one short flight of stairs above where they got on.
But what if there were a way to eliminate this problem, or at least reduce it? One solution that I have often yearned for is the use of public shame. Imagine you get on at the first floor and press the button for the second floor. The elevator responds with a recorded message: “You have pressed the button for a floor that is only one flight away. Please press the button again to confirm that you cannot use the stairs.”
If you’re carrying a package, having trouble walking, or any other socially acceptable reason, no doubt the other passengers will think nothing of you pressing the button again to confirm your selection. However, if you are in fact an able-bodied human being, who is using the elevator out of nothing but sheer laziness, perhaps public shame will force you to reconsider your choice. And if you’re the only one on the elevator, press away!
In fact, I recently stumbled across an announcement to similar effect. On the automated train at Denver International Airport, if someone blocks the doors from closing, there is announcement which informs you that you are actually delaying other passengers by standing in the door. I didn’t ride the train enough to confirm that it was working, but I’m hopeful.
My dream is that one day all automated systems will use public shame for the public good.
Update: After reading the comments, I now realize how much I blew it with this one! Everyone’s thoughtful feedback has been great. This post was meant to offer a lighthearted, albeit not well-thought-out, “game-mechanics” approach about how to deal with a common occurrence. However, there are clearly issues with it.
First, as Maria Popova’s comment noted, there were a few terms here that complicated matters. In addition to “rage” being a bit of hyperbole that clearly backfired, “public shame” was also a poor word choice, and something related to collective behavior would have been far better. Shame is a very bad way to deal with this problem, as Brene Brown, a researcher who studies shame and vulnerability, has mentioned. Providing positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement is much more preferable for dealing with this. And certainly, any effective solution would need to properly deal with people with disabilities in a respectful and sensitive manner.
Ultimately, the real problem is how to get more people to take the stairs, and use an elevator in the most efficient way for the most people possible. One potential solution noted on Twitter, using reward rather than punishment or humiliation, is this creation. And in the meantime, the best solution for now is simply to be more patient and understanding, instead of getting annoyed at these minor daily disruptions.
Thanks for all the comments!