More lift fun

From the archives: originally written on another platform almost three years ago, but in light of recent discussions on elevatorial matters, revived and blogged here. Enjoy.

There’s these new lifts in Portland House. Well, the lifts aren’t new, but the user interface certainly is. (Some readers will know that I have a bit of a thing about the logical design of the perfect lift – mainly as a result of reading too much Douglas Adams too early in life.)

No call buttons anymore, oh no. This is, according to the literature (more of this later) a “state-of-the-art” system. There’s just a keypad. Laid out just like a telephone keypad. Yes, with the asterisk and hash too. You ignore it, of course. A lift arrives; you’re on the ground floor; you want to go up. Naturally, you try and get into it.

Not so fast! A small facilities management elf appears: “Do you WANT to go to floor 16, sir?”, he leers. “Do you? DO YOU WANT 16, SIR?”. You back away in horror… “Erm, no, I want 27…” “Ah, then you have to press 27 sir, then it will tell you which lift to wait by, and it will take you straight where you want to go?” “What? Straight there – a dedicated lift just for me?” I ask.

A little symbol: -TILT- appears in the elven eyes. He’s not used to being asked questions of any depth beyond: “Where is Victoria Station?” (he doesn’t know).

“But, that lift’s going up, can’t I just take it on from 16 to 27?”…. my words trail away. Because I’ve just seen through the rapidly closing doors the horrible secret of the redesigned lifts. There are no buttons inside. There is a taped-up sign over where I suspect the buttons used to be, saying: THESE LIFTS ARE NEW AND STATE-OF-THE-ART WE HOPE YOU ENJOY THEM. I want to rip it aside to find some buttons to prod. Yes, the anger is starting to rise now. Anger? These are just lifts. What IS going on here?

So I can’t take that lift. I have to shuffle over to the giant steel telephone and dial for help. 2 -tap- 7 -tap-, here we are… it says take lift H. I see Liftshaft H lurking by the door. I wait. A lift arrives. I get in. No one else does. They are busy being harassed by the elf.

Not too bad, I think. The doors close. I’m speeding upwards. But horrible thoughts creep in. What if I wasn’t quite sure if it was 27 or 26 I wanted? What if I’d miskeyed? Would I have to go all the way back down and start again? How would I go back down? Would I have to get out of the lift and press Ground. Sweat breaks out. There is no Ground, no “G”. Just a telephone keypad… Should I press “0”? – seems logical, but why should I have to be guessing what spells to cast in order to perform what constitutes 50% of all person/lift transactions?

And what are the asterisk and hash doing there? What mysterious functions could they unlock? Space travel? A plummeting journey directly down to the Circle Line? I want to bash and punch them repeatedly now to make them offer up something.

I am out of control in a small sealed steel box whirring upwards over Victoria with no means of changing my destiny. Now I really do want to rip off the A4 sheet to see what’s there…

I emerge, at 27. Quite quickly, really. Entering reception, I find a handy little sheet of paper which tells me all about this new lift experience. Gosh: they really have gone to town on this one. Shame I hadn’t seen it before entering the lift lobby in the first place, but then again I didn’t want to read bits of paper then, I wanted to get in a lift. Without elvish deterrence.

What a fabulous work of glossy literature is this: much reference to state-of-the-art and so on. And then I see the fatal flaw. At the precise moment when the designer of this insanity thought the killer blow had been struck in the name of reason, the completely-missing-the-point bit is apparent.

“SchindlerID is a new concept in control technology, which answers the question – ‘what is the simplest most convenient way of transporting a passenger from one floor to another in a building?’ – The first and most obvious answer is to treat the passenger like an individual.”


Normally, people are individuals, true. But not people getting lifts. Not people, grey and miserable from being packed into the 0732 from Purley, aching, shivering, damp and cold. They are not people. They don’t feel like people. They don’t want to be empowered by their lift. They certainly don’t want to be given a job to do. A task to accomplish in a packed lift lobby, pushing through three dozen identical wet blue overcoats to dial a number on some ghastly brushed steel keypad. A task awarded by an elf pushing you away from that nice warm lift, yes, just there, yes, that one you tried to just get into without thinking. Silly you.


They feel like sheep. They feel like asleep sheep. They wanted to be treated like sheep. At the shepherd’s “Ping” they want to shuffle forwards into the first available metal womb and wait, huddled in silent sadness, as they lurch floor-by-floor to their horrible Regus office lives.

Treating them like individuals is: Just. Plain. Wrong. This is utter madness. I’m all for changing the world, but not starting with the lift interface.

A final word from Schindler’s Lifts (and was that a deliberate lisping pun? – how lucky we were to get in that Lift, Rachel!…hmm, possibly…)

“Our work will continue over the next year or so until we have a brand new lift system within Portland House. It will be a system that is one of the most modern in the world but more importantly it will be a system that provides excellent service to the busy people of Portland House.” And then we will take over the world, we will build a new Jerusalem, etc. etc. Tomorrow belongs to us… Nutters.

(By the way, I am very pleased I managed to write this without one fucking expletive.)

AFTERPIECE (three weeks later)

A new note has been pinned up in Portland House:

“Dear Lift User”, I paraphrase, “it’s come to our attention that some of you are not quite playing ball here with our fancy new lift calling/booking system. If you’re in a group, it’s no use just one of you pressing the floor you need, and then you all getting in. That way lies chaos and disorder. Lifts may be overbooked. The system will not be optimized. The seas will boil, and verily the sky may turn to sand. Each and every one of your group must press the button themselves. One at a time. Only then can our destiny be fulfilled and the matching of people to vertically-moving boxes be completed. Please spend more of YOUR time making OUR facilities more efficient.”

Or something like that. Wonderful. But of course I got thinking. Knowledge is Power. With information can come subversion.

So now of course I while away my minutes waiting for the lifts by entering my floor a careful, oh, 20 or 30 times. Thus ensuring my large ‘group’ gets express service all the way to my destination, with no wearisome stops in between. And the chances of having to share with Mr Halitosis from East Dulwich are precisely zero.

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