/ observations

The Future Came for My Elevator

I came into work and the elevators had new operation panels. The building owners had been threatening us with emails about them for weeks. They finally arrived. Touch LCD screens on the exterior. You select your floor and it tells you which elevator will arrive. Helpful and, I’ve been told, it manages their usage more efficiently (neat).

The elevator arrives and the doors open. The old interior panels obscured your only options now hidden under the lip of metal boxes: open door, close door, call for emergency. Once you’ve summoned the elevator there is no changing your mind. You can’t, on a whim, recall that you needed to visit someone on the sixth floor if you were heading to the seventh. If no one else selected that floor, you’re locked in for the ride. You must complete the trip, exit the elevator, summon it anew, and then reenter the elevator.

Or what if you’ve summoned the elevator for a 12-story ride and someone enters with you. They make you uncomfortable. In an earlier world you could just play it off, “Oh, I actually need to get off here” and press the button for a closer destination that you are more comfortable with. This same technology that manages the elevators could also enable discriminatory elevator behavior in apartments that feature poor doors.

I remember at a New Year’s Eve party my friend pulled out his guitar that had a black box affixed to the back of the guitar head. He played a few notes and the box twisted the knobs to tune the device. For a second, I experienced and expressed the jubilation that every other person in the room did. Then the crushing waves of the implications for monoculture set in – a never-ending cascade of perfectly computer tuned guitars. No input from the musician's ear. No slight variance across different players to give them their own unique sounds. Just a world of programmer dictated bias acting on the gears that tune the strings.

All of this is to say that I’m desperately worried about the costs and what we lose by willfully entering this future. It’s often proclaimed that diversification is good. Yet onward we march to an increasingly fragile order. Monocultures are not robust or resilient and, often, they’re boring.