Saturday, June 10, 2006

Traffic Jams…. Reinterpreted:

If you have ever lived in, or close to a big city, then you have experienced one of blunders of the modern metropolis… the traffic jam. I have lived in or traveled through enough big cities that I’ve probably heard, or been part of a conversation that consisted mostly of complaining about traffic jams over 100 times. This phenomenon of the traffic jam plays an integral role in the life of any city dweller. As I’ve experienced this phenomenon, I’ve realized that typically the conversations consist of language similar to this:

Person A: (sigh)

Person B: (sigh)

Person A: Traffic jam…

Person B: Yep… (spoken through a voice of repressed anger)

Person A: (sigh, or sigh like signifier)

Person B: (slow sigh mixed with a clear indicator of “I’m getting impatient”)

Person A: The traffic is always jammed

Often this is followed by another round of sighs and then silence. Occasionally this is followed by a reprise of the previous conversation. I think it is safe to say that many of us do not particularly enjoy waiting, nonetheless waiting in a confining box with no other option. These days, many avoid this process through escaping the inevitable through their cell phones. However, I want to perhaps offer a new way of envisioning these traffic jams that we experience so regularly. This simple idea came to me after reading an ethnographic study of a student that I graded during my job as an anthropology teacher’s assistant. The assignment was for the students to study American values expressed in a particular facet of culture through key informants, participant observation, and ultimately writing an ethnography regarding the culture. One student chose to write his ethnography on the culture of waiting. To better understand the culture of waiting, he decided that he would bring a stop clock with him the next day to measure how much of his days were spent…………..waiting. In the end, he figured that he was spending at least two hours each day doing nothing but……….waiting. He then explored quickly a few things that he thought he might be able to do to enhance his experience of waiting. Now imagine, if you can, some things you could accomplish if you were to utilize the minutes and hours that you spend sitting restlessly in a car. I’m aware that this isn’t the most novel idea that has ever entered the mind of man. However, I want to explore a hypothesis and keep you updated through an ongoing blog. I am currently living in Bangkok, which provides me with ample opportunities to test my hypothesis. I will be in Bangkok or in other South-East Asian cities for the next three months. My hypothesis is as follows: If I utilize my traffic jam time for the next three months (including bus rides, taxis, etc.) to learn the Hindi language (which I have no background in), I will be able to speak, read, and write the Hindi language semi-fluently by the end of the summer. Of course, to give any credence to this hypothesis, I will only study the language when I am in traffic jams. I also would like to invite anyone who reads this blog to participate and challenge themselves to utilize the time spent in traffic jams to acquire a new skill, read a certain numbers of books, etc. I imagine a sample of this magnitude would enhance our understanding of the power of something as simple as utilizing time that traditionally has been used for complaining.

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