Playing with the traffic

December 23, 2010

Very bored of the snow now, but at least – at least – we’ve had the shortest day – the sun starts to come back from now on. My skin is terrible, my face is pale and puffy and my joints ache. And it’s dark, so I can’t go outside for hours on end, which kills me. I’ve said it before: I don’t know where I came from, but I guarantee it’s not this climate. NEXT YEAR I AM GOING SOUTH for the winter. In my triplane.

In the meantime, here’s one for you. I’ve been thinking about the geek attachment to playful things as a sort of social slack picking-up-of.

Children like cars, doll’s houses, aeroplanes, games, and train sets. Children grow up, realise things are more complicated, and stop playing with the miniature versions.

But look around. Adults drive lorries hundreds of miles a day, weaving through traffic, pulling levers. Who says hydraulic brakes aren’t fun? Who says operating a digger isn’t? Ink stamping library books seems to me astonishingly playful. There’s a playfulness to every interaction with a bus driver. It’s there in the dimmer switches and it’s definitely going on in the car wash. This goes way beyond sports and games; when you look for it, there is unacknowledged fun everywhere. Millions of things are far more enjoyable than they need to be. We are humans – we are monkeys – and we live to play.

So maybe children aren’t toying with trivialised versions of serious things, maybe they’re allowing themselves to get excited about all the full-size levers, tills, steering wheels, cookers and ink stamps to come. They’re the workers, not us, diligently practicing for the real full-scale fun of adulthood. However much we complain about multi-storey carparks and long-haul flights, the fact is that adults go out of their way to do cool things whenever they can. (What’s more exciting than a service station that goes OVER the road and carries on ON THE OTHER SIDE for the people going THE OTHER WAY?!) Whatever reasons we might come up with afterwards, I’m convinced that human beings do things because they’re cool.

So I was thinking about geeks. I don’t know if this is true, but it occurred to me that things like transport and motorways are obviously considerably more exciting than advertised, but they’ve been tainted by the drudge of work. So many objectively amazing things have been ruined by associations with bad things like work and war. Maybe to be geeky about these things is never to lose that initially, un-contextualised excitement; and maybe the way to hang onto it is to forget the emotional associations. I don’t want to advocate being a psychopath, but there’s a sense in which, if you can detach from negative emotional memories – if you can look at a car park without thinking about traffic, shopping, exhaustion and pollution; if you can look at a train and see only its number and its impressive scale and speed… well, you might be a nerd, but at least things others turn away from will always be fresh and thrilling to you.

8 Responses to “Playing with the traffic”

  1. Leo Vegoda Says:

    You have a triplane!? That is so wonderful. I would love to be able to fly a triplane.

  2. enemyofchaos Says:

    Ah, I *wish* I had a triplane. According to that photo of me, I once sat in a very small one.

  3. Phil Gyford Says:

    Did you ever see ‘The Secret Life of the Motorway’? That was great for making it clear how amazing motorways are. Or how amazing they *were* a few decades ago, and how they seemed like the future, and what a feat their construction was, and how BIG their road signs were, and how people would crowd on the bridges just to watch cars driving along these amazing new roads.

    It looks like you can watch it online, although the sound’s out-of-sync here:

  4. […] posted all papers to date * blogged and * been blogged about * filed copy * been invited to speak at two events in the New Year, and […]

  5. enemyofchaos Says:

    I did indeed see it, or some of it – thanks for that, will watch again! It think there was a similar series about caravans which I keep meaning to track down.

  6. […] What you missed Select Month December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 « Playing with the traffic […]

  7. Nothing is more exciting Leila, nothing, which is why the SUITS no longer build those kind, indeed no longer build them anywhere near the motorway, but rather on a traffic island a couple of miles away. Forton!

  8. enemyofchaos Says:

    Ah, dammit, you’re right. Why do they hate fun.

    I also love Phil’s comment about people crowding on bridges just to watch the cars driving along (probably going about 30).

    Dave and I went to check out an abandoned slip-road once, you could ‘watch the road’ from a vantage point at one end of it:

    One day all motorways will return to nature.

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