Archives for posts with tag: Signal

There’s a new-ish kind of road sign on Irish roads. I like it. The sign combines a speed camera and an instruction.

When you’re travelling along a road with a certain speed limit, the sign shows you the speed you’re going. If you’re going in excess of the speed limit, which is also displayed in the sign, the speed shows red. When you dip under the speed, it shows green. Crucially, after it shows you your speed in green it then posts a ‘thank you’, also in green.

These are signs with manners. They thank you for obeying their rules. But, crucially, they remind you about the speed limit in a creative way and also encourage you to drive below the limit. You comply, and you get your reward, someone’s – or something’s – thanks.

I have no data on this, but I would imagine that these new-ish signs are effective, certainly more effective than other kinds. Until, perhaps, we tire of the novelty factor. But will we ever tire of someone using good manners?

Advertisements
Image owned by Reuters via the Japan TImes

Image owned by Reuters via the Japan Times

I’m sure politicians get coaching on body language and mixing with the proletariat. It’s such an important part of the role; you can’t afford to be aloof these days.

What makes me surprised, then, is when you watch election results and vote count announcements, and the victorious politician, male or female, has to indulge in this straight-armed ‘martial wave’. It’s not quite Hitler-ish, but it’s not far off.

Perhaps they’ve been told that it makes them look authoritative and indicative of leadership potential. I can’t stand it, it’s all triumphalism and ego-basking, without so much as an ounce of humility, the true indicator of greatness.

Yes, the martial wave sets altogether the wrong tone for leadership. Why can’t victorious politicians, after a brief moment of relief or celebration, take a leaf out of the books of either soccer players or Chinese performing arts exponents, and clap their audience, the people who funded them or put them in the exalted position they are now?

The victory wave; you have to get it right.

It’s interesting how we’re conditioned to behave according to certain authority signals. A uniform, a whistle, a type of hat, whatever it might be, we interpret them as cues that someone is in charge, or supposed to be, or wants us to think they are.

We’ve all seen the tour guides wielding their umbrellas and clip boards like ceremonial symbols of governmental power. “Blue group! Blue group! I’ve got a clip board and I’m not afraid to use it!”

In the 1980’s and 90’s, before there was a computer on every desk, we lived in a world of paper. A sure-fire way to look busy and shirk work was to wander from office to office carrying a sheaf of papers. “Yes, that’s right, terribly important, just personally delivering this vital piece of information.”

It’s not just authority uniforms that we have an acquired, automatic response to. You can make the same argument for all kinds of uniforms. People of a criminal or ne’erdowell disposition rely on these signals to gain access to our house without raising suspicions – sometimes when we are home, but usually when we’re not – and take our belongings. Sometimes artists who like to remain aloof use them as well to preserve their anonymity.

I remember a few years ago my wife, who at the time was a stay-at-home Mum in a rather nice 18th century rented cottage in southern England, spotted a man approach our dwelling during the day in a van, get out in running gear, come over to our house and pretend to do some stretches for jogging while all the time peering into our windows and ‘casing the joint’, before walking ten yards back to his car to drive off again. You’d never think someone purportedly out for a jog was engaged in a job of another kind.

Uniforms and other signals lead us to think in a certain way.  They can also mis-lead us, to our cost.

 

The notion of a signal and signalling has for a long time held a certain interest for me. With too much free time on your hands it’s possible to get really deep on this and start delving into the notion of signifier and signified explored by the swiss chap de Saussure whom I touched on in this post. For a signal to function you need a sender and a receiver, otherwise it’s not a signal. You haven’t signalled anything to anyone. It’s rather like the philosophical conundrum: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Sometimes when I’m driving I don’t signal when I turn a corner, rebel that I am. If there’s no-one behind you, no-one coming the other way, no cyclists or pedestrians around, what’s the point of signalling? There’s no-one to receive it, no-one to benefit from it.  If there is someone around, then I signal to them that I’m turning and they can use that knowledge to navigate their own path from A to B.

As far as I’m concerned, though, the best signals are two-way, where the signal turns both sender and receiver into receivers. Let me give you an example. When I go to bed at night, I lock my car remotely from my inside my house, using the key-fob. This automatically sets the alarm. The red ‘armed’ light flashes on the car dashboard. This signals to me that I have alarmed my car. It also signals to the would-be car-thief that the car is alarmed. Perfect.

Some signals only benefit the receiver, some benefit both.