Elevator buttons can be fickle things at times — confusing labels or fiddly security systems can start a ride up or down a building on a slightly sour note. But on the control panel, there’s one button that stands out for its ability to make someone’s day rather than ruin it: the open door button.
There is no mystery as to what his job is. When the elevator doors are open, holding down the door opener button usually keeps them that way. As the doors begin to close, the pricking of the button, often decorated with an icon of opposite arrows, should stop the process and make the elevator accessible again.
What makes the doorknob special is that it gives elevator passengers (at least those within easy reach of the control panel) a rare opportunity: the ability to help a stranger with little to no effort or discomfort. For many of us, it has become almost an instinct to push the button when we see someone purposefully running or walking toward the elevator we’re currently in, letting them get in rather than having to wait for another car to arrive. comes by.
In the context of controlling a machine or gadget, the open doorknob stands out in a different way. When we press a button, it’s usually to make something happen: we want to turn on a coffee maker, take an action in a game, or heat up a burrito a little more. Not a lot of buttons are created to prevent something from happening, but that’s exactly what you do by telling the elevator to keep the doors open. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of other buttons that I use in my day-to-day life that I press to explicitly tell a system to keep everything as it is now.
Not so fast, doors. Image: Mitchell Clark / The Tech Warrior
In this column we often talk about the tactile experience of using a button. That’s not really possible with the door open button, because while many elevators have it, the button itself has a wide variety of physical shapes. Some are sublime, heavy metal buttons with a satisfying click and a light indicating that, yes, the control unit has received your message and is in the process of opening the doors. Some of them are terrible – the gross plastic ones that barely give any feedback, like stomping on a broken butterfly wrench.
But for the most part, the actual physical sensation of pressing the door-open button (sometimes frantically, at the last second before the doors completely close) is secondary. The real reward for the impression is the emotional rush; you helped a stranger not miss a meeting or gave a friend extra time to maneuver something heavy into the elevator.
This is a bit of an exaggeration, but watching another person get through the open doors and into the elevator makes me feel a bit of a hero. We humans worked together to prevent the machine from coldly carrying out its mechanical route without regard for the needs of humanity.
Basically, if you press the open door button, you will be in Sarah Connor for a brief second
However, if I’ve learned anything from comics, a hero’s best gadgets also have a mean counterpart: Spider-Man flies around town on the internet, while the Green Goblin uses a hoverboard. For the door open button, that is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the door close button.
Evil is twofold; if the door open button gives us a chance to help someone, a button that closes the door gives us the chance to cheat someone so we can get to our floor a little faster. Sure, there are times when closing the door doesn’t hurt anyone, like when we’re sure no one else needs to take the elevator, but more often than not, the door-closing button exists to tempt our selfish instincts.
The nefarious neighbor — and a mushy-looking button to boot. Photo: Getty Images/EyeEm
It’s also almost certainly useless. According to The New York Times, closing doorknobs on virtually every elevator in use today won’t make the doors close any faster unless you have a special key or code intended for firefighters or maintenance personnel. This is apparently thanks to a mandate in the Americans With Disabilities Act that requires most elevator doors to remain open for at least 20 seconds — even if someone immediately gets into the car and the door close button begins to jam. While its uselessness is probably good for humanity, a button that doesn’t do what you expect is a bad button.
Fortunately, the door open button really does what it’s supposed to do. And in a world of buttons we press to make our lives easier, it’s a refreshing reminder that sometimes a button can also be used to make someone else’s life easier.
PS: If you’re a fan of elevator buttons, be sure to check out this iconic bit of TechWarrior lore about the extremely confusing buttons in our office.