24 November 2010


Disclaimer:  This post is not to be taken seriously under any circumstances!  It is the opinion of Andrew and not neccesarily shared by Amanda (surely it's not) or the staff at "On Anarchy and Archiving." It is to be read as it was written, a diversion from serious endeavors.

I was in CVS this morning and had to take the escalator to the second floor to find the contact solution section and this got me thinking.  I'd read the New York Times online before heading out and I read an article on field philosophy, a philosophy which is applied to practical situations and studied in "natural" experiments kind of like anthropology, so this may explain my coming epiphany.  So, as I was going back down the escalator I began to think about the name of the escalator and especially its cousin the elevator.  "Elevator" suggests that it elevates something and so when we think of an elevator we usually think of going up, but is this a true representation of the elevator? Does the elevator not bring us back down? And is it not in a state of rest at some point?  This led to the following internal Andrew-to-Andrew discussion.

An elevator essentially three actions; it brings people up, it brings people down, and it rests in one place, so why is it defined only by one of these actions?  I have two conclusions, one is practical and the other is reminiscent of Glen Beck, apologies to listeners of Glen Beck.

The first suggestion is that the name comes from the utility of an elevator.  We define the elevator by its utility to us, as an easier way for us to go up to the top floor.  Now the problem with this definition, though it seems to make sense, is that it can lead to a trend in which we only ascribe value to things through their direct value to us, an elevator elevates us and so it is valuable, but a person 5,000 miles away has no direct utility to me and therefore she is not of worth to me.  In fact, most people understand that a person or thing need not have direct utility to have a kind of value.  Another problem with this definition is that it is highly anthropocentric, the elevator is defined by its relation to us.  Think about the life of an elevator, what does it do most of the day? It probably sits on the ground floor waiting to be used, so would it not be more logical to define the elevator by this state?  While we relate to the elevator when it's in movement, it is in fact more often not in movement and would be more logically defined as stationary.  The utilitarian and anthropocentric arguments are valid, but quite likely harmless, the same cannot be said for the modernization argument.

The modernization argument is that the definition of an elevator, as moving up, is indicative of a perception that constant progress should be our goal.  To say that we need to elevate and never go down or stay put is to say that there is a final universal goal for everyone and that we must all pursue that end.  In reality, we all have different ideas of progress and different means of attaining it.  To say that there is a single concept of progress, as suggested by modernists, is to make a series of value judgments that indicate that one society is better than another and that we are on a kind of development latter climbing towards "development", as stated by Jeffrey Sachs.  No, I think that we must acknowledge the reality that we do take different paths towards different ends and this should be reflected in the elevator.  I dare say that economists and modernists suggested the name "elevator" as a subtle hint to us all that we do need to abandon our uniqueness and traditions in favor of pursuit of modernity in the form that they have defined.  I say no! Let us re-name the elevator!

As suggested in the title, up-and-down-alator would reflect the fact that it goes both up and down, but what of it's natural state of rest?  Maybe it can be termed a sometimes moving room with automatic doors?  Or maybe we should let the elevators define themselves, who are we to impose our values and lexicology on them?  I, for one, refuse to use the derogatory and misleading term "elevator" and support the movement towards a fair definiton of up-and-down-and-stationary-elators!


  1. I don't know why I am opening this can of worms, probably to torment Amanda, but why do they call the landing gear on a plane landing gear? Don't they use them to take off as well, or are the some new developments in takeoffs that I don't know about? In fact, I would argue that they are used to take off more than they are used to land. Every plane uses landing gear to take off, but not every plane lands successfully on its landing gear.

  2. I would call it an elevation regulator. This name encompasses up, down, and stationary functions.

  3. Pete, I love that name, now we just need to replace all elevator signs with elevation regulator signs.

    James, Amanda says you shouldn't encourage this, but she appreciates your effort. I say, you're totally right. Maybe we can call them uppey downey wheels? That's also an interesting observation that they are used to take off more than land, but something I guess I'd rather not think about before travelling home. I hope we use the uppey downey wheels for both take off and landing, while acknowledging that they also spend a lot of their time neither landing nor taking off.