Every once in a while I come across an escalator that seems out of order. But upon taking my first disappointed step to walk up, the elevator gently shakes to life and carries me triumphantly the rest of the way thinking “How do they know?”

With an increasing effort to conserve energy these escalators are becoming more prevalent and bringing us one step closer to life as seen on The Jetsons.

It’s been said that “half the joy in life is in the little things taken on the run” like these magical machines. However, the same could also be said about half the agony. A case in point are the steps featured in this photograph that has been circulating around Chinese message boards and drawing the ire of many embarrassed shoppers.

Looking at the picture, it’s understandable how people can mistake this plain flight of stairs for an energy saving escalator. Imagine wandering through the shopping mall with bags in each arm, checking your mobile phone while thinking about what to eat in the food court when you see that familiar black rubber railing. Once you climb onto the step, there is an excruciatingly long second until you realize you’re not moving anywhere. It’s just enough time for anyone in a 10m radius to immediately size you up as mentally challenged.

On the topic of embarrassing situations involving steps, have you ever tried walking up a non-functioning escalator? Even though you can normally manage a staircase like one of those parkour guys, when you have to walk up an escalator that isn’t moving you suddenly feel like a drunk three-year old. This is caused by a combination of our expectation of escalators to move and the phenomenon of “peripheral drift illusion”. This is where indirectly seeing two strongly contrasting shades (for example, the yellow safety stripes against the black steps) trick our brains into thinking something’s moving when it isn’t. So whenever taking an escalator, be sure to watch your step… then again maybe you shouldn’t.

[ Read in Japanese ]