[A "conversation" in Beirut.]
I was out at the Bryant Lake Bowl last night, talking about transportation and society with some friends (as per usual). What we ended up discussing was the way that cars force you to interact with each other. My friend was saying how completely normal people, who are very nice and non-rude and genteel and civil, can turn into absolute solipsistic maniacs when they get behind the wheel of the car. (I’m not going to name any names, Andy, so your secret driver identity is safe with me.)
The point my friend was making was that the ‘honk’ of the horn has almost ZERO syntactical content. It's almost entirely meaningless, and only conveys something like danger/urgency. It’s a blaring nasal mechanical bleat, and other than giving someone the finger or yelling noiselessly in your isolated cockpit, its the only form of communication you have. The honk of a horn can mean anything from “Fuck you!” to “Please speed up” to “The light is green, please proceed at the next available opportunity" to "You just cut me off, and you better be late for a wedding or something" to “Hey, you’re an attractive female!”
Being in a car, at least if you’re not dangerously talking on your cell phone, means that you are reduced to the most duck-like form of communication possible, to a single solitary noise that could mean almost anything positive and negative. When you stop to think about it, a bunch of people stuck on a freeway is perhaps the lowest possible common denominator for our society, at least in terms of interactive communication.
But then someone asked, what if you could replace the ‘honking of the horn’ with something like an emoticon? What if, instead of your horn saying ‘beeeeeep’, it could say “LOL" or "OMG!”
Close your eyes for a second and imagine a freeway full of cars stuck in traffic, only instead of leaning on their horns, the cars were going “LOL” to each other! OMG, that might be great.
Update: Actually, no, it would still be dumb.