Each morning the man on the traffic report presents a new tale of woe. Some days I cringe when I hear it because I know I’ll be in the middle of the scrum shortly. Some days I sigh in relief, knowing I don’t need to leave my home office, able to do plenty of useful things with my computer and a telephone. But whether I stay at home or get into my car, the traffic report always sounds like a strange, existential poem.
Intellectually I'm aware that the world is dynamic. Things are always in a state of change. Some grow while others crumble. Nonetheless, I sometimes allow myself the comforting thought—the wish?—that the collective whole is on a trajectory of improvement.
Here's what I mean. When the radio warbles its daily traffic report, I sometimes cling to the thought that slowly, like a young forest maturing into old growth, this is what improvement sounds like in slow motion. Cars cause delays when they bang into each other, and roads crack and decay over time, also causing delays. But accumulated like dots on pointillist paintings, I wonder if those inevitable snarls in regional traffic are how the traffic ecosystem works things out and improves. Does each pothole, each moment of distracted driving, each foolish left hand turn, or broken traffic light help refine the overall system in some tiny way? In more tangible terms, it’s as if the software is getting groomed, with human interface design and bad code and mechanical stuff getting its wrinkles ironed out with each successive iteration. Find a crack in the road: fix it. Cause a foolish fender bender: learn from it. Develop a better highway ramp: build it. In the churning, maddening mass of growling engines, I sometimes cling to the thought that genuine progress might be afoot.
Traffic reports include notices about accidents every day—clearly not individualized expressions of good experiences for the drivers caught up in them. But almost just as frequently those reports include statements about road construction and other capital improvements—evidence that someone, somewhere, is thinking about making the system “better”. When I hear about construction projects somewhere in the city I wonder, "could this finally be the year that the traffic system gets worked out?” In my observations about evolutionary traffic, I wonder if the metaphor obtains across the entirety of human experience, too. If mere traffic management is a sign of microscopic, slow-motion improvement, perhaps all human enterprise suggests that things are getting better in every way!
This is the expectation of any artist, of creators of all types. I’m convinced that most creative people honestly believe that if he or she chips away at an idea for long enough it might transform into something relevant, into something meaningful. As an artist, I cannot help but hope that there’s some sort of inherent truth in this that describes a creative spark for our species. I realize that's an awfully big desire for something as innocuous as a brief blog posting, but imagine if you went through life simply dodging traffic, without thinking that you were part of a process gradually heading toward something better. All you’d be doing is getting from place to place, and grumbling every step of the way.
That’s no way to live.