August 07, 2007

Life, Universe and the Fourth Floor

Philosophical time in an elevator

One of the less lauded beauties of today's technological evolution are the multi-storied high-rise buildings. Take a moment to think about it. Level after level of offices with rooms and cubicles all containing people working to earn their daily bread. People scuttling around like ants, dwarfed by their own creation. People above people, people below people, shuttling up and down in tiny 6x6x7 ft elevators. It's mind-boggling how many people one of these tall monstrosities pack in on an average day.

I've worked in a fair number of these places. First there was Novell, then Intel and then there was NEC, just to mention a few. Surprisingly enough, at all of these places, I was always seated in the fourth floor. I dunno what it is with me and the fourth floor. Some odd inexplicable affinity that cannot be passed off as mere coincidence. Unfortunately, the fourth floor always falls in that odd category of being too far to walk up, and just a little too close to warrant a lift. I've come up with a nice balance for this... I take the lift while going up, and walk down.

This morning, while I was going up, I was all alone in the lift. I was thinking about the things to do, the people to meet and the mails to send and BAM!.... the lift stopped. Somewhere between the second and third floors, all lights went off, the fan stopped, and an emergency light came on.

It took a minute to wrench my train of thoughts to the situation at hand... I did a quick double take, and took a breather. The lift had stopped, and I was in it. All alone. A very bad place place for someone as claustrophobic as me to be in. I took another long breather to prevent the nausea from sinking in, and hit the alarm button. I held it down for a good 3 minutes. I banged on the walls. I jumped up and down. I screamed and yelled. Anything to take my mind away from the nasty thoughts of being interred forever from coming up.

But there was no response. I was stuck, and nauseous. My cell phone had no signal, and no one noticed the noises I had made. I had nothing to do but wait for the lift to move again of its own accord. I sat on the floor, and thought. It wouldn't be a lie if I said my life flashed before my eyes. Yes, that tends to happen to phobic people. There's a reason why a phobia is defined as an "irrational fear".

Sitting down helped a great deal. I sat and thought about everything. Now suddenly all my planning of the day's tasks seemed so... frivolous. I thought about the place I was in. The lift. The building. The city. The planet and it's microscopic insignificance in the cosmic scale. The universe. The big bang. Evolution. The Zen of existence. The missing link.

How even more microscopic and insignificant I was in that lift stuck between two floors when measured on the same, cosmic scale. How the fact that my being stuck here would never matter, never affect the future of... anything. It would never go down in history, never be remarked upon, never at all. It made no difference. For the rest of the universe, it was life as usual. Just another slight immeasurable increase in entropy. And then...

Poof, the lights came on, and the lift started moving down. I stood up hurriedly and took another long breath to prevent the head-rush. The lift stopped, and the doors opened. I stepped out into the stale, gloomy air of the basement. And this time, I took the stairs.