I recently began working in a building that has a TV screen in all of its elevators. I don’t know how common this is in office buildings, but it seems pretty extravagant to me. It shows a loop of news items, and weather updates and sports scores and that sort of thing—it’s a cross between the aimless facts projected at theaters before the movie starts and the info on the digital billboards mounted on the roofs of New York City cabs. Sometimes, when I get in the elevator when its crowded, I almost feel embarrassed to look at it, which is especially foolish, because it seems as though the screens were installed to alleviate embarrassment and give strangers in elevators something to do other than stand there fidgeting uncomfortably. It’s as though I want to make a show of not giving in to the ubiquity of media distractions, prove to everyone I’m drawing on inner resources to quell myself for the elevator ride and that I don’t need any crutches. So I stare at the floor instead.
But when I am alone in the elevator, I relish the screen the most and the random pieces of information I glean from it. I’m not sure where the news in the elevator comes from, who edits its content. It seems almost haphazard. There is a surprising preponderance of NHL scores—maybe unbeknown to me there are a bunch of Canadians working somewhere in the building (or perhaps the building has contracted with a Canadian news service.) Today I learned that Six Flags amusement parks are going to initiate a concierge service that allow patrons to pay extra to cut in line (an idea that economists are sure to love, I’m sure, since it allows for further price discrimination among customers and theoretically more efficiency—it’s a bit like road pricing). Alone in the elevator with these small bits of information coming in, I feel strangely isolated from the world, more so than I would without the screen. It’s a desert-island feeling, where you feel thankful for scraps of news in an environment that you suddenly realize, away from your computer for the first time in hours, is blessedly bereft of informational overload.