Anthroposemiotics, or human communication, is a fascinating field. We, the good people of this plant, are rather remarkable in our ability to use sounds, signs, and signals for the purpose of cooperation and sharing intentions.
What began as a grunt-grunt in some prehistoric cave, developed into words. There are thousands of languages spoken in the world today, with millions of variations on the theme of verb conjugation, and innumerable school children that suffer the consequence of this sophistication. Language is perhaps the highest level of communication, but there are other means of getting your point across.
Facial expressions and body language, for example. A wide-eyed gape or an eye-roll are as effective at saying “no way, dude!” or “whatevs” as the words. In fact, these less intricate modes might be considered of greater integrity than language, which is prone to manipulation and subject to interpretation.
The more basic the means, the greater the clarity.
Signage is a good example of this. A big, fat, yellow sign with Skippy is hard to misunderstand. It’s simple, but clear. Which brings us neatly to the point behind this particular attempt at communication: indicating.
Indicating—a seriously underestimated, mundane example of communication, but one of its most splendid manifestations.
Once upon a time, in the dark ages before drive-thrus, people had to use legs to get about. Not satisfied with their own two legs, they employed the four legs of the horsey. But even this left a need—a need for speed. There followed a few attempts at harnessing the power of steam, until someone went “Aha! Combustion engine!” Suddenly the population was able to convey themselves at neck-breaking speed.
Well, it was more like two dudes, François and his mate, Bob. Though a bad fall on your head at 8km/h could do some damage.
History, as we live it, was written. Eventually everybody got driving, and driving got pretty fast.
At some point someone decided that it would make sense to equip the automobile with means of conveying one’s intention to other drivers. This was in a time of top-hats and old-worldly sophistication, where good manners and etiquette, still mattered. It makes sense that the history of indicating can be dated back to an age where people knew the proper reply to “how do you do”.
When I convey myself down the highway in my automobile and someone indicates, I hear a posh Victorian voice saying:
“Good day, Madame. It is my intention to change lanes to my left, and hope that this purpose will be well received by your good self. If you should find it convenient, I would hold it in the highest regard should you offer your cooperation. Kind Regards, and wishing you a pleasant day, Mr. Volvo.”
When someone performs any maneuver without indicating, I hear Donald Trump saying:
“Fuck you, I’m Tweeting.”
Indicating is, obviously, a matter of safety. Letting the five-ton truck behind you know that you are about to merge seems like basic survival instinct. Indicating also makes people active drivers by encouraging thought before communication before action. It makes the driving collective more efficient—clear communication keeps things running smoothing and without unnecessary delays. As a driver, the pursuit of your own interest (i.e. getting somewhere safely and speedily) is in everybody’s interest. By being a safe, responsible driver you are contributing to the communal happiness by also helping everyone else attain their goal.
The fact that thousands of people can speed along in their cars, heading in opposite directions, in a relatively civilized and orderly fashion is nothing short of magical. Roads offer methodical access, while traffic lights and signs provide order. But indicating—indicating brings the humanity. Without these little flashes of recognition, we are just automatons mindlessly bopping along on the road to nowhere. We start, we stop, we start, we stop, and we are alone.
Indicating brings us together. It is an acknowledgement. It is acceptance of the fact that we all have to share this world, and the roads, and that a little bit of consideration will make the journey a more pleasant one.
Indicating might not be as showy as a Shakespearian sonnet, but it is the most eloquent expression of survival savvy, efficiency, and civility.
And all this goodness requires basically no effort. A little flick of the finger and you are making the world a better place.
Which is why one’s mind is always boggled by the number of people who opt out of this exercise of common sense and decency. Every day, on highways and side streets, thousands of drivers are extending only the proverbial middle finger.
Perhaps laziness. Or bad habits. Or perhaps it is a symptom of the disconnectedness of our times. We trust in the virtue of our own instant gratification. Any discomfort, however slight, is considered a breach against my right to be comfortable at all times. I look away, buy something pretty, and assure myself that my needs are definitely more significant than anybody else’s. Aggressive individualism does not benefit the individual. It fragments society and isolates people from each other. The only ones who benefit are the organisations trying to sell you something.
You are just so damn special that you deserve this $100k SUV with all the safety features. Think about the kids. Think about the box of eggs you have in the trunk. You can crash this beauty into a cement bypass at 120km/h without so much as spilling your coffee. You need this to be safe, and you should be safe because you are special.
Or you could just indicate.
There should be some empirical research done into the cost of non-indicating. It would be interesting to know just how many accidents might be traced back to someone randomly ploughing their 4×4 across all the lanes, without so much as a wink. It would be good to have data on the number of delays caused by confused drivers having to anticipate the intentions of the Jeep God in front of them. If he goes left, the rains will come.
Do the non-indicators think themselves too cool to play along? Society expects them to indicate, but they just won’t be tied down by no rules. It may be some kind of misguided attempt at rebellion. James Dean probably didn’t indicate either.
Whatever the reason: stop. Or rather, start. Start being a slightly more considerate human being, who accepts the possibly of the world not revolving around you. Start paying other people a bit more respect, and in the process start being part of a community. It is the little things that make the world a better place—a smile from a stranger, someone giving up their seat on the train.
Start making the world a better place—indicate.