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For reasons I don't completely understand, the idea of communication between cars is endlessly fascinating to me.

However, I need to explain what I mean by “communication between cars”. I don't mean looking at people in other cars, or waving or yelling back and forth, or any such thing; I mean communication using the modes of expression available to a car, of which the most important are motion and signaling.

Here's a way of thinking that's a bit more radical than I like, but that gives exactly the right idea of communication. Imagine cars to be big, metal animals, with the drivers acting merely as the brains, eyes, and ears. These car-animals are able to communicate with each other. They can run in packs without tripping over each other, like wolves, by observing each other and coordinating their actions; they can also signal back and forth, mainly using light instead of sound.

By the way, I don't feel I have good intuition for what it's like to be able to signal by emitting light, even though I do it every time I drive a car. Too bad humans can't intrinsically emit light, like fireflies! (The same idea shows up in science fiction occasionally, with aliens that communicate using light.)

Since car-animals, like many actual animals, can produce only a fixed set of signals, I doubt the communication qualifies as language. In fact, I think that's part of the fascination, that driving a car is something like being a nonlinguistic creature. I find that although my range of expression is limited, there's still surprising depth to my interactions with others. It's possible to cooperate or defect, to trust, to deceive, to be friends or enemies, to be wise or foolish, calm or angry. The depth increases with the amount of interaction, and so is particularly apparent on long interstate drives, where one sees the same cars over and over.

Another part of the fascination is that the communication is so clearly rooted in action. Changing lanes signals an intent to pass precisely because it's the first step in actually passing. Conversely, changing lanes to the right signals an intent not to pass—just as a display of open hands signals an intent not to attack.

Well, that's about all the explanation I can think of. If the idea doesn't make sense to you now, maybe it will suddenly make sense some time while you're driving.


  See Also

  Being the Car
  Memes for Good Driving
  Relative Speed
  Via Lane Change

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