Bird in a Mirror or Canary in a Coal Mine

A bird preening in front of a mirror is like the selfie craze in elevator mirrors. Recently I ran across some websites totally devoted to people taking their picture in elevator mirrors. Some of the photos were sexy, some funny and some highly inappropriate. One set of photos were in the documentary style of a daily photograph, marking life one frame at a time, one elevator ride at a time (see the website here). It is interesting that mirrors in the interior of elevators have become so fascinating to so many.

There is an old story about how mirrors were first placed in elevators and in elevator lobbies. The legend is that the elevator in a certain high-rise building was slowing down with age and lack of attention and instead of making needed repairs, the building owner looked to the brilliant mind of a psychology student that lived in the building. The student suggested a cheaper alternative by giving people something to do other than just standing and staring at a blank wall when waiting. This would make the time pass faster and make it seem as if the wait was much shorter. The result was the first mirror installed in an elevator and the lobby. People have been straightening their ties, combing their hair, checking their zipper and entertaining themselves in those mirrors ever since.  Much like a caged bird preens in front of a mirror, people get distracted by their own image and don’t think of the slow ride to the lobby.

That story may or may not be true. I have looked for sources and it seems that everyone claims the mirror idea was theirs or that it was unique to them. There are versions from IBM, Penn State, Bucknell even some Bigg Elevator companies had a version of the story circulating.

The real problem with the story is not the mirror. Yes, I even double check for broccoli in my teeth if I’m all alone for an elevator ride. The problem is the premise that the elevator was running slow due to age or lack of attention and the mirror was a cheap work-around. If your elevator is running slow it may be a different kind of bird altogether. It may be a canary in a coal mine warning you of problems that need to be addressed. Here is a list of specific things that need to be checked out by a licensed elevator technician to improve performance if your elevator is running slow.

  1. The initial setup could be the problem. Elevators are sophisticated pieces of machinery that rely on a proper setup. Settings could improve performance.
  2. In a hydraulic elevator the control valve could be going out. The control value controls the elevator speed. A bad one could slow things down.
  3. In a traction elevator (ones with ropes) there might be a problem with the output to the motor or the motor drive. It could also be early symptoms of motor equipment failure.
  4. It might not be a mechanical problem at all. The building and elevator use could have increased or the purpose of the elevator might have changed. This could be slowing the whole thing down.

Eventually if the mechanical issues are not addressed it could cause a failure, leaving people stuck. Keep in mind that depending on the type of the elevator and application it may just be slower than you would like. Although no one likes a slow elevator, a smooth, quality ride is just as important, besides you need time to take all those selfies.


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