THE NEXT TIME you step into an elevator alone and think you hear voices talking to you, it may not be the stress of a long week's work or dizziness induced by yet another day of 90-degree heat and humidity. You may have entered one of the increasing number of elevators that talk. Yes, the Otis Elevator Co., which long ago pioneered the elevator that can't fall, has now pioneered the elevator that can't keep quiet. "Going up," your elevator will tell you. "This is the eighth floor," the elevator will say at what is presumably just that.
The talking elevator is bound to startle some people at first and irritate others after a while. But it has undeniable possibilities as an art form. These are not likely to be realized immediately: the Otis people are using a computer-simulated deep male voice in their elevators, a pale lifeless imitation in the tradition of Alexander Scourby or Westbrook Van Voorhis. But why not capitalize on the variety and uniqueness of real voices, as radio has done for many years?
Surely in this day and age there should be female-voiced elevators as well. Perhaps the Otis people feel that only a male voice has sufficient authority to say, "Please stand clear of the closing doors." But why should we be limited by the prejudices of the least enlightened among us? Elevator users should prove as willing to listen to higher-pitched voices as are the millions of radio listeners and television viewers who get their news from female anchors and reporters.
The stickier question will be whether elevator proprietors can be required to use raspy, nasal or oddly pitched voices, on the theory--borrowed from the Christine Craft case--that people have a right to access to media without being "made over" and in spite of any natural features that might make them unattractive to consumers.
If the voice gets unintelligible, well, you could always put in little visual meters to show people what floor they're on and which way the elevator is headed. You could even station people in the elevator to direct it to requested floors and open the doors there. They could be dressed in uniforms, seated on stools and . . . but now we're getting into science fiction.