Elevator Talk

One of the best perks at work is you can talk to your co-worker about the most trivial thing in the world and continue the discussion for hours. 

Today's topic for the debate was "Elevator Talk".

As a foreigner who grew up in Korea (My co-worker once called me "ob" for off the boat. Normally it would've been "fob" for fresh off the boat, but I've been here for a while so I don't deserve the "fresh" designator) this one thing in particular has been irking me a lot.

(some) People in America don't stop talking in the elevator even when there are people near by.

I've seen some extreme cases where there was another guy in between two people, and they nonetheless kept on talking. I felt pretty bad for that guy for being "word slapped" in his face left and right.

Here are some reasons why I don't prefer talking in the elevator. Take a look and let me know what you think.

1. Unless you are going to talk about something important, it can wait

When you are in the elevator with a few other people, they can hear your conversation with extreme detail and accuracy even if they don't want to.

And frankly, we all know that this is the case. That's why you normally talk about small things that are okay to be overheard by strangers. Some frequent topics include... weather, kids, weekend. I'd say a majority of these conversations I've overheard were boring.

I don't remember a whole lot of them. Right? You aren't going to talk about your relationship with your girlfriend, the next career move or existential crisis you are going through. So why don't we wait until we can talk more privately and give other people some privacy?

2. You can't help but automatically hear (listen) other on-going conversations

No matter how focused you are on what other person is talking, when there are multiple conversations happening in less than 3 sqft space, you can't help but overhear. In fact, it's more like the words are penetrating through your brain. 

The conversation gets mixed, and you no longer are effectively paying attention. Let's do a simple math. If I'm not mistaken, 100/1 is 100, but 100/2 is 50 and 100/4 is 25. The more conversation there is, the less your ability to focus. 

But contrary to my assumption, if there are multiple talks going in the elevator, they don't stop talking. Instead, they talk louder. It then becomes a shouting match. Like what the hell people. Can't you just wait 20 minutes? I'm quite sure you are also overhearing other conversations as well. 

It is worse if people are looking at their smartphones and talking at the same time. They don't care about other people's privacy. Ok fine, but they also lack basic manners (I personally find talking to another person while your eyes are locked on your smartphone is really rude)

3. It hurts my ears. Seriously

I just googled this. Also based on my personal experience, elevators aren't big. They are normally 1m x 2m (I still find metric more intuitive so sorry for freedom unit people - my coworker actually said that).

If you have more than two conversations going on, it will get jumbled up and louder. And voice also echoes a lot. There's no better cavity than an elevator at inside a building. Okay maybe the bathroom, but I bet the bathroom is bigger than an elevator unless you are talking to another person in a stall and if you do, you have some serious issues!

If there are 3+ conversations happening? I give up. I close my eyes and pray for the ride to end ASAP. My ears hurt. I feel like I'm in a club. Or maybe worse. 

Bottom line: There are approximately a million other places where you can have a conversation in a much quieter, focused and private way.

And my coworker's comeback was this. 

"Dude... talking in normal. Just because somebody walked into the elevator doesn't mean we have to halt our conversation. It's a social norm to talk in the elevator anyway. Why do you think that everybody else is doing it?"

After iterating those three points, then I also questioned if it really is a "social norm" to talk in the elevator. Or are people doing it because the elevator is inevitably an awkward place where people normally get passive and have no clue on what to do during the ride?

Let's think about it. Honestly, it does feel awkward when I'm riding with 4 other people and they are all talking and I'm not. Sometimes, I do have to acknowledge, I feel downright dumb, lonely and unpopular to blankly stare at the numbers that seem to have stopped forever.

At the same time, I wonder (by overhearing their dull conversation), are they really talking because they want to talk? or because they don't have any other better alternatives. What's their BATNA (dropping some business terms here just because I can)? Probably not much than looking at their smartphones.

So I decided, instead of passively conforming to this artificial social norm, not to talk in the elevator. I became an anti-conformist. And it takes courage and some time to get used to it. 

In the beginning, there have been multiple times I felt pressured to talk about the weather, and sometimes I do, but now it feels more natural to not initiate the talk. 

Before gay marriage was legalized, it was a social norm to not allow it as a legitimate social contract. People acted as if that's true based on a very simple and stupid reason: Other people act the same way.  Everybody conformed, because it was a social norm and see how negatively that has affected the lives of these people until recently.

So it does take courage to say "No" to apparently "normal" things because everything "social" is bound to change. Just take a look at what happened to some things we took for granted and how they changed. Abolition of slavery, change in concepts of marriage and legalization of gay marriage. I firmly "social" things are fluid and are bound to change, and there's no need to conform unquestioningly. 

Now, I do acknowledge that I've taken this too far. This elevator talk has been escalated too much and I'm talking about social movements. 

So I'll wrap up this post with situations where you are allowed to talk and you aren't allowed to talk in the elevator based on my perspective. This isn't a game theory but this is an elevator theory. It's very elaborate and different situations could lead to different outcomes, so please keep how parties can interact with each other in mind.

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