Elevators are strange, awkward places.
This is something I've always known but have never been reminded of on a daily basis like I am now. You see, I work in a building that has eight floors and one small, 4x4 elevator for over 400 people. There is a staircase, but for us 8th-floor dwellers, the elevator—as cramped as it gets—is usually the better option.
Since riding in a tiny elevator on a regular basis, I've become familiar with the different postures people assume in uncomfortable reaction to the sometimes severe invasion of their personal space. Not that I can blame them, but it makes for some interesting behavioral observations (especially since there's no elevator music). So, below are the different types of elevator riders that I've witnessed (and I'm sure there are others).
The Number Watcher
Most common. Given the pin-drop silence that the elevator seems to command as soon as its doors close, the only thing Number Watchers can focus on is the number representing the current floor, which can never change fast enough.
Very common. When in said uncomfortable situation, it's natural to instantly look down to the ground, which can't make eye contact back.
The Staring Off Into Spacer
Common. Does not want others to perceive him/her as an anxious Number Watcher, nor as the shy Shoegazer. Prefers instead to appear cold and detached, but remains just as uncomfortable on the inside.
The Small Talker
Relatively common. Involuntarily uses a defense mechanism to nervously initiate and perpetuate worthless conversation between uninterested parties. With everyone in earshot, the Small Talker's nervousness only increases the tension for everyone else—Shoegazers shoot up quick glances to see what floor they're on; the composure of normally cool-headed Staring Off Into Spacers is shaken.
The False Gadget Guy/Girl
Not as common. Quickly resorts to toying with closest handheld device. Uselessly navigates cellphone menus or mindlessly scrolls Blackberry wheel to take their minds off the awkwardness of the current situation.
The Oblivious Talker
Rare. Fearless. Carries on pre-elevator conversation as if he/she never entered an overcrowded elevator to begin with. Has total disregard for environmental and situational context. Takes the edge off for everyone. Steps off elevator just as he/she entered it.
Awkward elevator situations aside, there is one thing I like when I'm in an undersized elevator doing a sort of group hug with strangers. Outside in the real world, you can have all the money, power, and status you want. But in the elevator, you and your wall-squished face are no better than anyone else's. You're just another schmo like the rest of us.