People make mistakes. To err is human, right? Most of the technology that we interact with was built with this concept in mind. Light switches go on and off, cars have accelerators and brake pedals, computers have the indispensable ‘undo’ command. So why is it that elevators require us to live with our first choice?
If – like me – you are a parent of small children, you have lived with this frustration more than a few times. Our children’s daycare can only be accessed by elevator, one of downtown living’s compromises. If you include the basement level, there are 5 floors in total. A round trip, starting at the top and stopping each floor and then coming back up can take 3-4 minutes. So when I’m already running late to pick up the kids and I rush into the elevator to see all the buttons lit up like Christmas tree, I tend to get a little crazy. Yes, I should probably just take a breath and count to ten or something, but like a lot of other daycares, ours charges late parents by the minute, which likely explains my state of mind.
I have, rarely, come across this problem in other buildings with a far greater number of floors. Apparently some people think it’s funny. The result is excruciating. If I’m the only one in the elevator the cursing goes unnoticed, but when others are aboard the combined seething is tangible.
Why is it that elevator buttons exist outside of the logic of nearly every other device? Once activated, a request to go to certain floor must be carried out. There is no second chance, no undo, no cancel feature. I figured there had to be a very good reason for this, especially considering the ubiquity of the, er, feature.
To find out, I pinged a friend who just happens to work for an elevator installation and maintenance company in Ottawa.
"I have never heard of this option when ordering a car operating panel. There is a call cancel button we have purchased for a client before. Works in a similar fashion but the button is separate and designated "call cancel". There are many manufacturing companies that might offer this option but from the suppliers we use, it is not an option. My guess as to why they don’t do it.. probably because if you can’t read a button, you shouldn’t be by yourself in an elevator or because if a child realizes the button will flash on and off every time he pushes it, it might be more of a toy for him/her? [I’ve had] lots of questions before…. this is a first. and NO, you cannot get out of the safety hatch inside the elevator to the roof!!!! Only in the movies!!"
Yes, he insinuated that I can’t read.
Thus I remain unsatisfied. Frustrated by the seemingly obvious lack of thought that went into designing the controls of an essential form of transportation. Moreover, I’m surprised that after decades of development, no elevator company has ever included this – or patented it – for surely it would be a differentiator in the market.
Ok, it’s your turn. Am I missing the one glaringly evident reason why you can’t just push an elevator button again to cancel your choice and turn the thing off?
August 2, 2007: I’m not the only one. Steve Jobs hates elevator buttons too.