Back in 1959 a pair of Californian cardiologists called Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman identified a series of personality traits which tend to go with each other and, they argued, disproportionate levels of heart disease. The traits include an overblown sense of time urgency, a desire to fit as much into each second as possible, excessive competitiveness and aggressiveness and a frustration when other people are too slow, when cars dawdle and when planes are late. Twenty-first century man in other words.
They coined a term for such people which has entered common usage. They called them Type-A personalities. And in Douglas Coupland’s 1995 novel Microserfs, one of the characters neatly encapsulates what Type-As are all about. ‘Type-A personalities have a whole subset of diseases that they, and only they, share,’ he claims. ‘The transmission vector for these diseases is the door close button on elevators that only gets pushed by impatient, Type-A people.’
Stephen Fry may have made the news recently for his fatalistic tweeting about his time trapped in a lift, but most are designed with Type A personalities in mind. The most sophisticated lifts are now able to predict human behaviour patterns based on the time of day and anticipate which floor they need to be on. And they go faster than ever before, some at more than 40 feet per second. They could go faster, but there would be a distinct possibility of severe ear pain from the changes in air pressure.
They are also designed to deal with human psychological needs. The lift close button is there to give Type A personalities something to do because waiting four seconds is just too much for them. The rumour is that many lifts have dummy buttons or that managers turn them off even if they do work. Research shows that people would like to wait a maximum of fifteen seconds for a lift to arrive and start to get visibly upset if they have to wait forty seconds. So designers include indicators that show a lift is on its way to give the impression of an immediate response. And if you’ve ever wondered why they have mirrors inside, the answer is partly to do with dealing with feelings of claustrophobia but also to give people one more thing to look at while they’re stuck in the damn lift.