One Among Many

The self in social context

No Guide For the Perplexed

Notes from the Wandering You

Ampelmännchen

"You cahn't get theah from he-yah."

~ Folk saying in New England

Your design curmudgeon is back (from the pissoir), and he is perplexed. I explained earlier that to be good, design must get its material science right, its engineering (things must work as intended), and its psychology (ordinary folk must be able to use it). As a psychologist I am concerned with the latter, and I gave examples from assorted lavatories. Now traffic, especially in the United States of America, also gives me seasonal dyspectic disorder, which tends to last from January 1, 0h00, to December 31, 24h00. When my faculty host picked me up at Logan Airport, Boston, and whisked me to Rhode Island for my job interview at Brown, he asked me what the main difference was between the U.S. and Germany. He reminded me recently of my reply, which was: “The roads.” Ja, I stand by that. That was in 1991, and the roads in this country are a vivid everyday reminder of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. We are headed to banana republic conditions – right through the potholes. Besides the potholes, I marvel that the lack of drainage. I have never taken an engineering course, but it takes little imagination to visualize the curvature of a road’s surface necessary to let the water flow AWAY! Engineers in Rhode Island (and probably in other states) do not know about that. They build huge depressions into the road system that any imbecile can recognize as water retention basins, waiting for the rain. The rains come and cars get stuck in these pools (why the Rhode Island drivers drive into these pools is another question that I cannot contemplate right now). Anyhow, the water-retention-anti-drainage-sinkholes are primarily a problem of lousy engineering and a political problem inasmuch as the job could go to engineering firms that actually employ engineers with degrees. But hey, why put tax money to intended use?

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the scene of the crime

Welcome to Rhode Island, walkers.

Today’s dyspepsia is concerned with human behavior on the road and some of the signs and physical features designed (?) to regulate it. Let me show you some pictures. The scene of the crime is the corner of Route 1 (“Post Road”) and Route 402 (“Frenchtown Road”) in East Greenwich, Rhode Island (picture 1). Recently, a pedestrian crossing was added so that pedestrians can cross from North to South (picture 2) and from South to North (picture 3). Trouble is, there are no sidewalks that can take said (sad?) pedestrians further north to the strip mall or south to Citizens Bank (“Not your typical bank!” – their slogan) or Stop & Shop. If you walk on, you get into
North to South

Picture 2: Heading South

grass, shrubbery, or undergrowth. I imagine peds forever walking North to South to North ... a diabolical scheme to mock the vanishing American pedestrian. Make her a cross-walk where she never walks. I am not just imagining this mockery. It is real. There are signs for the auto-motorists asking them to respectfully yield to the imaginary ped (picture 4). But then again, the blind roadmaker set up more puzzling signs. There’s a ONE WAY sign in a place where no motorist (but perhaps the imaginary ped) can see it (picture 5). Lest you conclude that only peds are mocked, I introduce picture 6 into evidence. Here you see brazen disdain for Grice’s (1975) rule of quantity. Eschew redundancy. Only make a left turn, or, if you cain’t read (but drive a motor vehicle anyway),
Heading North

Picture 3: Heading North

note the lower sign and don’t make right turn. Where they heck are we headed?

Did I overreact?

This is a question I often ask myself. Here, an optimist might suggest that the pedestrian crossing will only temporarily look out of place. Eventually, walkways will be installed to connect the crossing with the businesses on either side. Perhaps, but I remain doubtful. Look again at pictures 2 and 3. The posts with the signal lights are placed smack in the middle of the would-be walkways. This is silly and you never see it when there actually are walkways. The optimist's last resort is to predict that when the walkways are put in, the posts will be moved. Hope springs eternal.

Note. The “go man” in the epigraphic picture is the famous Ampelmännchen (little traffic light man) that, along with very few other things (Angela Merkel among them), survived the collapse of the so-called German Democratic Republic to haunt Berlin intersections of the Jetztzeit.

Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and semantics 3: Speech acts. New York: Wiley.

 

Yield!

Picture 4: Yield!

 

one way

Picture 5: One Way!

Left turn!

Picture 6: Please make a right turn, please.

Joachim Krueger, Ph.D., is a social psychologist at Brown University who believes that rational thinking and socially responsible behavior are attainable goals.

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