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Human Interaction Up Close and Impersonal

When I leave my building in the morning and walk down the street, I pass at least one person every 4-5 feet. Usually, the person passing either does not make eye contact at all, or does out of the corner of her or his eyes, makes no facial expression indicating that they have seen me, and continues on their way. Sometimes, they make brief eye contact, and look away. Sometimes, they make eye contact and hesitate for a nanosecond, waiting to see if I will acknowledge that I have seen them too.

My office building is a lovely, mid-sized building, with many small business owners of varying persuasions and professions as tenants. Each day, I get on an elevator in my office building to go up to my office, which is on the 18th floor. I walk past the security desk, where the guard is looking down to silently read his email on his phone. Often, there is a line of people waiting to get into the one of three elevators available for the trip. The wait is rarely more than 5 minutes. Occasionally, people who know each other say hello while waiting. Otherwise, people stand in silence, furiously scanning their smartphones for messages and texts, or talking to someone on the phone.

Same thing on the elevator. People reach over each other to press the button for the floor they wish to go to. There could be 2 or 15 people on the elevator.  Even when people are packed into the elevator, pressed up against each other, side-by-side, lining the walls of the car, everyone is looking down at their phones, or up at the ceiling monitoring the ascent of the elevator, physically closer than they get to most people, and, not interacting – at all.

I have always found that experience incredibly strange. I imagine that everyone has at least a momentary recognition of that when they are in it. It’s this awkward moment, which is at once very human – you hear and see people, you smell their cologne and other body scents, you bump up against them — and also negating of it. We act as if no one, including ourselves, is there.

 



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1 Comment

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AUTHOR

Karen Steinberg
  • Anonymous

    In many ways they’re not there, or should I say they choose
    to not be there. It would seem that all to often it’s far easier to be
    detached. -Many times pretending to be detached, all the while being consciously
    or unconsciously consumed with fear. I suppose it’s easy enough to understand.
    There’s no risk in detachment. It’s safe, extremely isolated, but within our
    control.  I find that most people need
    that. -or at least desire that, control, safety -even the illusion of control
    seems, for most, to be the path most regularly taken both inside and outside
    your elevator.  However, it does fly
    right in the face of your “Possibilities”.

    Now me, well, I tend to smile and say hello and chat to people in
    elevators, waiting rooms, and even occasionally on the street. I find that some
    people feel relieved that the strange silence or awkward moment you referred to
    was broken, and happy that there was someone willing to do what they wish they
    could, but are either too self-conscious or frightened to try.

    I wonder, Karen, did you smile and talk with anyone on your
    elevator?  Or perhaps you’re more often caught
    in the process of observing, that you too miss the opportunity to be a
    participant -being in the moment.  I hope
    not. I tend to recall you being a rather spontaneous spirit… Perhaps not as much as
    me   -But… we all can’t be me 🙂
    Here’s to Hugging Strangers in Elevators!
    Big Hug!