One of the nice benefits of my Constitutionals is that over time, I’ve acquired a lot more stories about, and involving, the Humans. So far, all of them have been positive and none included hearing, through the veil of twilight consciousness, a police officer asking “Did anybody get a good look at the car before it took off?”
For someone whose social software is perennially in beta, it presents many opportunities for QA testing. Last night was a good example. I crossed a busy street and just before I put my earbud back in, I heard someone in a pickup (who was still stopped at the light) call out “Good work!”
He was definitely speaking to me. I waved and said “Thanks!”
And then I realized I didn’t know what he meant, precisely.
I rock-tumbled a few theories all during the rest of my walk home:
- “I see that you’re out taking a Constitutional, despite the fact that it’s cold and dark outside! I salute your commitment to taking regular exercise!” Which was very kind, and will encourage me to brave bad weather again.
- “I see that you’re out taking a Constitutional, despite the fact that you’re clearly about fifty pounds overweight! This is surprising, and I want to encourage you to keep it up!” Which would also have been very kind, but maybe just a tad condescending.
- “I see that you are wearing a headlamp and a reflective belt, waited for the “Walk” signal, took one of your earbuds out before crossing, and even so, kept looking out for traffic in both directions until you were safely on the other sidewalk! I salute your prudence and wish all pedestrians were so cautious!” Which seemed slightly unlikely, but I pass by many other walkers and runners at nighttime who don’t look quite so…Ned Flanders-esque.
- “I see by the bag in your hand that you did a little shopping at the nearby market! Thank you for walking instead of driving, and thus offsetting some of the damage I’m doing to the environment by driving a vehicle that’s less fuel-efficient than others! As you can see by the truck’s good, honest wear, it’s a sensible necessity of my work and/or lifestyle, and not just something I bought because of the ads during football!” Also unlikely, but I still had a ways to go and I had time to ponder.
- “Dork!” I’ve hard-coded my human interaction primary processor to always consider the possibility that the interactant has done a fair-minded appraisal of me and put me in the “Dork/Nerd/Poindexter” category. These algorithms are also reliably-informed that a nonzero percentage of the general population are jerks. So if someone’s intentions aren’t immediately obvious, it’s just more efficient to assume that they might be pursuing an anti-dork agenda.
- And, finally, “Because you pushed the ‘Walk’ button and tripped the stop light, I’m going to be forty seconds late for work! Why couldn’t you have just crossed when it looked safe?” I imagine that this is a common, and wholly valid, complaint from flies. For us, someone dawdling over a coffee order is mildly annoying. For the common drosophila, that’s like making someone miss their child’s high school graduation. Plus the previous four years of school. Still, how attached could a fly get to any of its seven hundred kids? You’re probably doing the fly a favor. Think about how annoying and demanding a middle child can be…then imagine a parent stuck with about two hundred Jan Bradys.
I concluded that the pickup truck driver was being nice, and encouraging, but he was faced with the daunting challenge of putting across a somewhat complicated sentiment to a total stranger in just a few seconds.
It’s a nagging problem, isn’t it? I’ve sometimes thought about what I’d do if I saw someone in immediate danger, but it was the sort of danger that was hard to clearly explain except over a leisurely coffee and danish, after a formal introduction by a mutual friend. The natural thing for me to do would be to shout “RUN!!!” But when a stranger yells that at you, the natural reaction is to should back “WHY?” or, at best, “IN WHICH DIRECTION? IS IT SO BAD THAT I SHOULD EVEN RISK RUNNING INTO THE STREET?”
At which point the kindest thing to shout back is “NEVER MIND.” Because by the time you would have explained the whole situation, the enormous pane of window glass that you spotted panicky workmen struggling with above the sidewalk will definitely, as you suspected, have snapped its safety line. And if you were in this person’s shoes, would you want your last seconds on earth to be filled with bewildered panic and the knowledge that there’s absolutely no chance of avoiding a messy and painful end?
Perhaps we should come up with a word that means “I am saying something cheerful and positive in approval of what you are now doing, and I’ve chosen this specific word because we, as a society, all agreed that we would never use it sarcastically.”
In the past, I have fallen back on the simple “You rock.” I feel like I need to be wearing a luxurious wig of platinum blonde heavy metal hair while saying it, though.
As I said…my social software is stuck in beta.