Elevators, Airports, and Tetris

Elevators are weird places. For about thirty seconds, it seems like the world stops and we find ourselves crammed into a pretty small space with a bunch of people we don’t know. And oddly, all of our social conventions seem to get tested while we’re there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a horrible smelly elevator by myself only to have someone else get on. Of course, the first thing that goes through my mind is figuring out how to convey to my lift-mate that I am not the originator of the stench, without drawing attention to the fact that I’m trying to convince them it wasn’t me. Does she think its me? Do I look like someone who stinks? Should I say something? Make some joke? Story of my life.

Airports are kind of the same thing. We all have some place to go and are stuck with each other for the foreseeable future. Actually, air travel is even weirder because after spending time at the airport together, we then get on an airplane, forcing us to sit next to one another. Smelling each other. Ugh. (btw, see the pattern here? Apparently, I’m obsessed with smells).

I’m not the only one who feels this kind of awkwardness. All of us do. You know how I know? Because we all pull out our mobile phones when we’re in these situations. In every weird, socially pressurized situation, we react by scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We text our friends. People we know that are safe. People we don’t feel awkward with. Next time you’re in an elevator, at an airport, or standing in line at the grocery store, look around. What are the folks around you doing?

Yesterday I asked someone what we did in airports before we had mobile devices? I really don’t remember. Did we actually talk to each other? I tend to think we were as awkward then as we are now. We just hid it better. Reading a magazine or a book is not as socially separating as messing with your cellphone. When we look at our devices, others tend to think we’re busy and don’t want to be bothered. Somehow that’s different when reading a book. I’m not really sure how, it just feels like its easier to interrupt someone when they are reading than when they are playing Candy Crush.

Our devices are stress relievers. Technology is a stress reliever. I’m not the only one to pick up on this trend.

Back in May 2012, some researchers from Oxford found that:

Tetris served as “a cognitive vaccine” that seemed to “inoculate against the build-up of flashbacks.” Why? Because the process of playing Tetris, the team hypothesizes, places demands on one’s brain that interfere with its ability to form and retain the traumatic memories that later emerge as flashbacks.

What a wonderful world we live in where games can help us deal with our emotional challenges. Where technology can help stave off those feelings of awkwardness, weirdness, and loneliness.

But in the long run, are we sacrificing something we don’t want to give up? Yeah its awkward to talk to people sometimes. Yep its weird to have someone think you farted in an elevator. But, are we willing to let technology embrace us as a friend at the cost of making new ones?

Some folks say I know things about culture, data, identity, and how they blend with technology. I’m using this space to explore ideas I’m passionate about.