In a city like New York, people live in close proximity and we develop the ability to “tune out” a lot of extraneous noises. This is not to say that New Yorkers don’t enjoy listening in on other people’s conversations, it’s just that in a noisy city, creating private space is sometimes a psychological game. I live in a quiet apartment. It’s truly quiet. It’s also a bit dark and in mid-winter I refer to it as my cave. Friends walk in and automatically start turning on lights. Oh well… I have quiet!
That was not the case this afternoon in the elevator. I was going out to the farmer’s market at Union Square in the middle of the day I needed a break from my keyboard and there is nothing like shopping for apples that is better for shaking up the brain. I stepped into the empty elevator. The door closed and a voice startled me.
“Your Con Edison account has now been approved for a special offer. Please press two and….”
I jumped out of my skull and dropped my empty shopping bag. Fortunately, it’s not a long way from the 4th floor to the lobby. It was just long enough for me to determine that the voice came from inside the new elevator’s operating system.
“Carlos, does the elevator talk?”
The doorman told me that the alarm button that automatically phones both the elevator company and the doorman’s desk gets a little crazy sometimes and “…makes phone calls. A woman came down from the sixth floor and wanted to know why she was hearing a commercial for a bank.”
Disembodied voices are a classic ploy in horror, ghost stories and, occasionally, in suspense novels. It also has a wide variety of interpretations throughout history. In some traditions, disembodied voices with important messages are declared communications from heaven — no doubt, no questions…. Joan of Arc was sure about that. So were Moses and Joseph Smith and many others. The religious implications of hearing voices only get confusing when you add modern psychiatric and neurological thoughts to the equation. Auditory hallucinations can be caused by brain tumors and other neurological disorders. Hearing voices is also a delusion associated with schizophrenia and other psychiatric diagnoses.
This is where WHAT the voices are saying becomes critical. “Press 2 for our special offer” is a whole lot less interesting (and less scary) than the instructions that the Son of Sam Killer got from the neighbor’s dog, which sent him on his killing spree in New York in the 1970s.
I’m really glad that the alarm inside the new elevator cab has the ability to call the elevator company. I just wish it didn’t also call the power company and banks — at least not when I’m on the way to the market. Now, will I write a story about a talking elevator? I think that’s almost inevitable.