Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Even cars have "body language"...

       In earlier posts I discussed the importance of nonverbal communication and how important it is to be aware if it. It's insidious, its everywhere. Even on the road, people use it to communicate with other drivers. Some of it is just simple obvious gestures, some of it is more complex. At night people can't easily see other drivers so horns and blinking lights signals are used to convey messages. But less obvious is the "body language" of cars. Tailgating as a way to let people know they are going too slow is one example, pumping one's breaks to tell the tailgater to get off your back is another. Experienced drivers can tell by driving patterns if a person is likely to let them merge or pass them. People can pick up important vibes without even seeing the other driver. Much of this is unconscious. Beeping a horn also has its nuances, if someone is slow to react to a green light there is a vast difference in tone between a friendly "beep beep" and a more indignant "beeeeeeeeeep!!!". Sometimes inching up just a bit closer to an intersection may be a politely way of asking another driver if they could let you in. Sometimes one can even tell by the movement patterns and the engine sounds if a person passing you was simply in a hurry or if they are just angry and impatient.
       Another way people communicate is sometimes through their cars. This may vary more by culture and I can't speak for others; but I know in North America many young people see cars as an extension of one's personality and a means of self-expression. This is not to say everybody as a lot of people just drive what that can afford or have more practical reasons for choosing a car. Although it is cliche, there are certain associations people have with cars and they are well accepted. Hot-rod type sports cars tend to be associated with youth, masculinity, and sex-appeal. Fast and aggressive driving tends to add to this. Station wagons and some large sedans tend to be associated with older people along with slow, cautious driving and obeying the rules of the road. "Cool" people are not supposed to obey minor rules in a literal way, although getting caught is not considered "cool" either. Cars can show both humility and pretension. They can be used for intimidation and other things. Accessories can also be added such as over sized tires sometimes for practical reasons, but usually to make a statement. I'm not counting bumper stickers here since that is a more direct form of communication and not as relevant to what I'm trying to get at. Fads also constantly change and a car that was once associated with youth and "coolness" and up being seen humorously as a "sign of midlife-crisis" and insecurity. I'm other words if it appears too obvious that one is going out of their way to be "cool" it has the opposite effect. When I'm in an automotive store I sometimes browse through some of the accessories and wonder what really has a practical use and what is just for image or has some subcultural or lifestyle connotation. Personally I just keep things simple and aside from two small (non-political) magnets I prefer to keep my car plain and don't want to see it vandalized as a result of it standing out too much.
       I know a lot of what I"m pointing out sounds shallow and in many ways it is. My intention is to show how many ways we communicate whether we realize it or not and whether we intend to or not.
File:Monster truck 2.JPG
from: Wikimedia Commons 2005

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