BEIJING – It’s only a button.
Or is it?
You’re fenced off from the people and places that make Beijing, well, Beijing. You're cut off from much of the world by the Great Firewall. You're swabbed and sterilized daily as part of a “zero COVID” policy. Or you're the recipient of a too-enthusiastic pat-down each morning and a cheery, computer-generated thank you every time a scanner records your movements from room to room.
In a world like this, the slightest bit of agency matters.
At an Olympics in a pandemic run by an authoritarian state in a fashion only this authoritarian state could pull off, some stuck in the “closed loop” found it in the elevator.
The “close door” button.
That button in so many elevators around the world that is more source of frustration than hurry-up tool works perfectly here and in many places across Asia.
Americans: Think of all the times you press, press, press that button hoping to shave a few seconds off an already dicey arrival time at work, and you end up cursing an inanimate object.
Not in Beijing.
Late for dinner in the restaurant with the plexiglass dividers as thick as hockey boards separating you from your dining companions? A press of the button at least gives that illusion you’re doing everything you can to make it.
Feeling rushed to make the bus that will take you to the building about 250 feet (75 meters) from your hotel that you can’t walk to because of the inflexibility of the Olympic “bubble”? The button.
The persistent robot roaming the hotel and spraying a mist — rumored to be some COVID-preventing concoction – coming for the elevator? Press it.
In an everyday world where so much is available at a tap of a button, you forget how satisfying the immediacy of acquiring things is — until that ability is taken from you.
The “close door" button restores that faith, if only for a moment.
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