Friday, July 07, 2006

Solving Problems We Don't Have

So here in LA we have these freeway alert signs, so we can all be on the lookout for the blue Ford Taurus whose driver just kidnapped someone, or whatever. And of course, it doesn't happen that often that there's anything worth being alerted about, thank goodness. But when there's nothing to alert, the geniuses at ... whichever department runs the things... have decided to alert us all to how long it will take to get to downtown, or the 101 freeway, or some appropriate landmark. The only problem is, that people actually slow down to read the signs... so it takes a little longer, and creates a little more of a traffic hazard, than it would have without the information.

There's just something about having a tool that makes people use it, even when it's useless. Even when it's worse than useless. They say that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail; I think the reality is that everything - problem or not - starts to look like a nail. And if there are nails on the freeway, then obviously drivers should know about it.

And so it goes.


At 10:08 AM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

This is a standard SNAFU. We're just socialized to unusual expectations from the public infrastructure, as if it were so masterful and reliable as our parents seemed when we were five. But from my limited experience designing new doohickeys and new procedures, nothing works for an iteration or two or twelve. Sure, if we were living on some crazy alternate plane like Denmark, our civil service would think to do simulations and even have a tax base with which to do them. But this is America, dammit. Does Denmark have an anti-missile system? It's equally a private sector phenomenon. Bankruptcy is commonplace for new businesses and even behemoths like World Com and Enron. I bet it's that famous American optimism and can-do spirit, such as made us the ones to oust Saddam Hussein and teach Iraqis the meaning of freedom. Maybe also why we're supposed to find Dutch cities soporifically tidy and prefer New Orleans.


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