How elections are like being trapped in an elevator

pbs trapped in elevator

Last night, when I flipped on the TV to begin watching election night coverage, I instead became totally mesmerized by an episode of the PBS program, NOVA, called Trapped in an Elevator (website, on-demand stream).

Later, after a few hours of channel surfing election coverage, I decided I could have flipped off the TV after watching NOVA because, well, elections are a lot like elevators.

1. Like elections, elevators have all sorts of new computer technology with blinking lights and algorithms, but the way they work is based on principles and approaches that are over a century old.

2. Like elections, the way elevators currently work — using cables — means that the higher a building goes, decisions are driven more by ego than economics.

3. Like elections, there’s only so much weight the system can handle before snapping.

4. Like elections, on a very tall building, a lot of the cost of the building goes into providing space for stuff most people never see.

5. Like elections, on elevators, the focus is on going up and down, not going forward.

6. Like elections, the only way you can get to where you want to go, is by sharing space — an uncomfortably small 2 square feet per person space — with people you probably don’t know and who can be very different from you in all sorts of ways.

7. Like elections, when you’re on an elevator and something goes wrong, the best thing you can do is become fast friends with those people who are different from you, rather than focusing on your differences. And for god sakes, don’t blame the other passengers for you being stuck.

8. Like elections, when someone gets trapped on an elevator for 41 hours, the reason may not be “the system’s fault,” but may be as simple as, “none of the people in charge thought to look at the elevator monitors” during the weekend.

9, Like elections, the “close door” button on most modern elevators is just there to make passengers think they have the power to close the door. The button isn’t connected to anything and it doesn’t actually close the door. (I apologize, I’m not quite that cynical, but the metaphor was too good to pass up.)


10. Like elections, NOVA is funded by David H. Koch (mysterious billionaires), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (organizations with special interests), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the government and incumbant powers-that-be), and PBS viewers (individuals).