Every technological advance puts us in the dilemma of an inescapable progress, but which, nevertheless, displaces human labor in very diverse sectors, taking professions such as the elevator operator to the practice of extinction. As a metaphor of the current world, the elevator journey has ceased to be an alternative of social interaction and exchange of courtesies to become a brief operation fully functional and aseptic.
The beginnings of the elevator
This mechanism, as we know it today, begins its vertical wanderings in the year 1853, when the brakes were incorporated into the lift . This established the modern foundations of this system as a safe means of lifting and transport between different floors.
Cordial and versatile service
Apart from operating the elevator controls, the role of the elevator operator encompassed a wide variety of functions, always personalized and adapted to each user.
For starters, it highlighted its utility in commercial buildings when someone was looking for a specific department or product, since part of its function was to announce which stores or services could be found in each level. Obviously, these companies relied on the role of the elevator operator not only to provide this practical service, but also to reinforce the welcome factor and project the cordiality and elegance that characterize a competent company.
In other words, these operators were functional public relations employees , who welcomed users and sweetened their commercial experience. The Marshall Field's company, for example, maintained its elevator operators until the year 1960. These were young women whose charming treatment was part of the character of the company and an emblem of their services.
This identification between the impeccable helpfulness of the elevator operator and the character of the company has always served as an extra comfort. And this applies not only when talking about commercial buildings, but also in hotels, private, residential or public buildings. In this sense, the operator has been a humble but dignified ambassador of the prestige and distinction of his employer. The presence of the elevator operator did nothing but promise and announce an imminent display of attention committed to user satisfaction .
On the other hand, and much more than being an effective means of promotion, the role of the elevator operator will be protagonist in the memory of many, precisely, by the transcendent simplicity of certain details. And, it is a simple detail that can save many daily situations and turn them into endearing anecdotes.
It is undeniable how nice to have an extra set of hands to help with the purchase or in the case of limited mobility of a user. It is a personal and friendly service that gives an immense humanity to an inconsequential moment , this being its greatest virtue in a society increasingly lacking in a habitual feedback of courtesy.
Other outstanding qualities and appreciated in a good elevator operator were the discretion and the safety factor . That someone knows exactly all the movements of entrances and exits in a concrete community can seem to us an uncomfortable exhibition of intimacy, but really, it protects the users of undesirable visits and offers a supervision of quality.
Reasons why the profession of elevator operator was declining
One of the obvious reasons why the demand for this role was decreasing turned out to be the technical transformation of the elevator . Currently, just press a button to handle this mechanism, epitome of a system that solves everything at the click of a button.
However, just 60 years ago, the elevators had to be handled with caution and precision to get the start and stop on the desired floor. In fact, this was not a simple operation, because the alignment had to be adjusted every time to allow the entry and exit of users safely. Some skill and experience was required for this, otherwise unpleasant shaking could occur in the cockpit. Likewise, if the elevator operator did not have sufficient skill or a just anticipatory capacity, the stop of the elevator could generate an uncomfortable step with respect to the corresponding level. In the same way, the speed had to be regulated personally and the mechanical doors had to be manually operated to allow the flow of users and ensure their safety during the journey.
Currently, none of these operations is necessary. In fact, the automatic control of the equipment was introduced in 1949 and some years later, in 1957, the doors also became modernized , being practically constituted as they are known today.
These two milestones were the beginning of the end of the role of the elevator operator, marking the obsolescence of their functions, but not the cordiality associated with their presence.
Interestingly, in New York and who knows if also in Rome, there are still buildings with old elevators, not as a luxurious projection, but because the owners of such buildings can not afford the costs of their modernization. In these buildings elevator operators still operate, as it is more profitable to pay their salaries and the costs associated with the maintenance of the system than to undertake a remodeling of such magnitude.
Currently, there are around 50 buildings that still have the figure of the elevator operator in New York. We can also find them in malls in Japan and Taiwan or high-speed elevators in skyscrapers such as Taipei 101.
For many elevator operators removed from their functions, the alternative evolution has been to become buttons at the service of the same company. Others ended up as porters or service assistants , which, in short, follows the same line of trade, but is devoid of the peculiar and intimate atmosphere of the elevators.
On famous elevator operators and our reflections in solitude
Ornette Coleman was an American musician who revolutionized free jazz in the 60s. Before becoming the great saxophonist that history has shown he was, he worked as an elevator operator in a department store in Los Angeles.
Especially endearing is the elevator operator, although fiction, in the movie "The apartment". This is Shirley Maclaine playing an elevator operator, which snatches the sighs of a shy and in love Jack Lemmon.
They also fall in love with another elevator operator in the Ramones song "The elevator operator". The singer Courtney Barnett has a song with the same title, but about the vicissitudes of a trade that was narrowly focused on treating human psychology and being sympathetic to it.
Whether it was real, cinematographic or musical, the figure of the elevator operators was missed in many sectors . Because, as many professionals have declared after losing their job, it was a job that could only be carried out competently if one loved people and that was the case of employees who had served for decades.
In fact, from 1957, the date around which the decline of this trade was considered effective when automatic doors were officially implemented, mirrors were increasingly used in elevators . The reason was that it helped people a lot to counteract the feeling of oppressive loneliness by not having the elevator operator's company . It was also possible to multiply the impression of amplitude, minimizing claustrophobia when traveling alone during those minutes.
It is often said that confidence rises in a staircase and goes down in an elevator as an image of the speed with which one loses the faith deposited in someone after some betrayal. Nowadays, everything ascends, happens and descends, practically, with equal speed and, frequently, in the urban anonymity , for good as well as for bad.
This article, conceived as a tribute, has tried to remember the figure of the elevator operator and evoke that warmth lost in the transience of certain instants that, nevertheless, braid the general impression that we take of the day. Because, in fact, it is the experience of those rare and beautiful interactions that makes cities inhabited and enjoyed places. The elevator will never be a place of comfort or familiarity, but it does not prevent us from fostering that spirit of affability in every treatment or service offered.