Lovin’ an Elevator

I am obsessed with YouTube’s vast subculture of elevator connoisseurs.

Elevator buttons.
Photo by Thinkstock.

This article is part of Watching YouTube, a Slate series about YouTube.

Despite what certain Slate essayists might lead you to believe, there’s much more to YouTube than boorish vloggers and bad actors. The magic of the online video platform lies not in the trending content but in the niche videos that will never, ever make the site’s front page, filmed by people acting less from some calculated profit imperative than out of genuine enthusiasm for their esoteric subjects. And video subjects don’t get much more esoteric—or, surprisingly, much more delightful—than the humble elevator.

YouTube boasts a large and thriving community of elevator enthusiasts. Its members seek out elevators of all sorts—old, new, boring, novel, broken—and film them from the outside, inside, and sometimes from topside too. Give Logan Paul a camera and put him in an elevator and he will probably start humping the handrail, or pressing every single button, or something even more stupid. YouTube’s elevator fans might end up pushing all the buttons too, but they will do so out of either a scholarly interest in buttons or merely desire to maximize their time in the lift as it does its lifting.

If you are surprised to hear that YouTube is filled with people who like to film their own elevator rides, comment on videos of other people’s elevator rides, and insult subpar elevator models in elevator dis videos, then you are clearly one of those enviable people who does not spend very much time on the internet. I would refer you to Peters’ Law of Internet Subcultures: Anything that exists implies the existence of an online group of people who are obsessed with that thing. This rule has served me well for years, as has its corollary: If people are obsessed with a thing, then they probably post videos about it on YouTube.

If I have learned anything from immersing myself in elevator videos, it is that elevators can be endlessly fascinating and entertaining—even if, like me, you are a stairs guy who harbors no great fondness for elevators. Don’t get me wrong: Generally, these are not videos of “exciting” elevator rides, like the Tower of Terror or whatever it was that made David S. Pumpkins appear. Rather, these are videos of simple workaday elevator rides, which admittedly makes them very predictable. The elevator goes up. It goes down. The filmers capture the buttons, the passenger capacity, the whir of the motor. Sometimes they narrate their journeys. Sometimes they don’t. The videos can last for seconds or for many, many minutes.

While I have never found my journeys in real-life elevators to be particularly therapeutic, I find these videos very soothing. Without being as intentional as the vast genre of ASMR videos, elevator clips are sort of like the white-noise machine of YouTube videos: The cavalcade of directional arrows, floor buttons, and cooing motors washes over me and calms my anxious heart. It’s sort of what it was like playing Microsoft Flight Simulator back in the day but with a much less complicated interface. The videos are also mildly educational. I am also cheered by the immense enthusiasm the elevator fans show for an activity that is, on paper anyway, exceedingly boring. Watching them inspires me to be more observant in the course of my own daily routines and to try to take note of details that I might otherwise miss.

There are elevator videographers living all over the world, and it turns out elevators differ from place to place and exist in wildly different contexts. (There are a lot of shopping-mall-elevator videos—from just about everywhere) It is also good to know that if I ever find myself in an Indonesian elevator, I will be able to operate it, because it is in fact no different from an American one. Phew! My summer vacation is back on!

It is worth noting that many elevator enthusiasts also discuss how they are on the autism spectrum, something they connect to their deep interest in elevators. The dean of YouTube’s elevator-enthusiast community is a Virginian named Andrew Reams, who posts under the name DieselDucy and has been filming elevators for decades. Reams has Asperger’s syndrome, and he has said that he views his hobby as a form of autism outreach. He is often accompanied on his travels by fans of his videos who are also on the spectrum. Occasionally he will post videos of himself delivering “it gets better”–style talks to autistic children.

Reams, like most of the elevator YouTubers out there, is genuinely enthusiastic about elevators, and his enthusiasm is evident in every video he posts. I especially enjoy the videos when he encounters a particularly historic elevator, like this one, in southern Virginia, which is so old that it lacks a motor, and is instead hauled up and down by humans hoisting a rope.

I appreciate the part when Reams and his companion ask for facts and figures that the kindly woman who accompanies them is not prepared to provide. YouTube’s elevator enthusiasts don’t seem to mind that other people don’t love elevators as much as they do, but they do get upset when they encounter bad elevators, or elevators that have been treated badly. In a very recent video, Reams revisited an old elevator he had filmed previously, only to find that it had been modernized by the building’s management. “You have been warned. A vintage elevator has been murdered,” the on-screen graphic says. “Yeah, look at that,” said Reams, as he comes face-to-face with it. “Modernized. Yuck.”

My favorite YouTube elevator enthusiast is an opinionated English-speaking Russian man who uploads videos under the name “ElevatorsinRussia.” I love this guy’s work—not just for its breadth but for its intensity. While his videos may not be as professional as DieselDucy’s, they make up in attitude what they lack in production values. ElevatorsinRussia does not hold back when he encounters an elevator that does not meet his standards:

He hates Otis Gen2 elevators, as you can see in the following video, which is my current favorite thing on the internet. The video is only 15 seconds long—I do not know why he doesn’t even go into the elevator—but it is nevertheless a genuine emotional journey:

If I were in charge of YouTube, I would work behind the scenes to promote this guy’s videos day and night. As it stands, I am glad that there is a home for all of this elevator content. In an era when it is easy and popular to define social platforms exclusively by their worst content and attributes, it is worth remembering how vast they really are—and how deep down the shaft of obsession their users can go.