I was waiting for the stoplight to turn green one day, just me and the my car waiting there. Since there was no one else around, I reached down to get my sunglasses. When I sat back up with the sunglasses carefully situated on my face, I realized that the light had turned green. I stepped on the gas and decided to get in the right lane. After perfunctorily checking my mirrors, I flipped the blinker for half a second, and changed lanes. After all, there was no one in the other lane, or even on the road with me.
The angriest honk I have ever heard seemed to fill the air around me and sent me swerving back into my lane. I looked around in consternation for this ghost car, and a spotted blue and gray apparition that zoomed past me. The driver glared at me through his window and plastered his middle finger against the glass, making sure that I could clearly read his message in all its glory.
I just stared back, letting my car slow down so that I didn't have to drive next to this randomly spawned lunatic that had appeared from the ether. The only thought that floated through my mind at that moment was, "Why do we honk at people? What a stupid form of communication."
As my years of driving experiences have piled up, it has become clear that we are in a culture of honking. I personally am too afraid to do more then light taps on my horn, on the random chance that the honkee may be a homicidal maniac that my honk sends over the edge. There are however, millions of drivers who do not feel the same as I do, and apply the horn with a much heavier touch.
So why do we honk at each other? It is true that a horn is probably the only instrument that is loud enough to reach other drivers through plated glass and steel. It's also true that most of us have little say in the matter, as horns are installed by the car makers and it was probably Henry Ford who invented them. Don't quote me on that.
But why the honking? More specifically, why the angry honking? I think it's the anger we have at being unable to personally connect with the other travelers on the road. We have these people that are so close, and yet so far away. We place ourselves in steel and glass prisons, effectively the worst kind of torture. Able to see the people around us but unable to communicate in any way, unable to even touch them or act in any manner different than what we have been trained to. After all, trying to actually communicate would result in death for the drivers, can't take your attention off the road for a second, even to text. But the jailers (or should we say rulers of transportation) did give us one type of communication; a loud, obnoxious, angry, horn. So, we take that. But the sound is so angry, we feed off of it and into our frustration at being unable to do what human beings are meant to do and actually reach out to those around us. So, we honk. And the honking gets angrier and louder the more frustrated we get at being unable to connect until finally, the honking is seen as a form of attack and you scare away the humans that deep down, you only want to connect with. Get the picture?
So, let's discuss the types of honks that there are. I've identified 5 different types, feel free to chime in with other honks or sub-genres of honks that you've heard. Here's what I hear on the road.
Types of honks
- The Tap: Light, polite beeps to let you know you missed the cue to go. Most often heard when a light turns green. Honkers are usually polite and/or afraid of imagined responses. They want to communicate, but are wary of the reaction, possibly because these honkers realize how invasive and angry the honk is.
-The Beep: Longer, insistent honks that say, "Pay attention, Stupid." Also heard frequently at traffic lights, and occasionally if you try to get into an already occupied lane. These honks aren't over the edge yet, and are the equivalent of tapping someone really hard on the shoulder to get their attention. Communication is still possible.
-The Blare: Self-righteous honks that let you know you are a terrible driver and the honker is obviously a much better driver as they were paying attention and you obviously weren't. This honk is the most frequent one, and can be heard anywhere in traffic from lines at Starbucks to the freeway. These people don't really care about the other travelers feelings or needs, but just want to be heard. They are on their way to being frustrated though, because honestly there's not much that can be said through a *BEEP*, which these drivers have subconsciously realized.
-Frustration Central: Repetitive honks intent on harassing other drivers, or that give the bored driver something to do. Heard in long lines or traffic jams, also when one driver cannot pass another who is going at some speed the honker has decided is too slow. Also accompanied by tailgating. These honkers would really like to just sit down and have a cup of coffee and discuss driving tactics with you, but they realize that this will never happen. They are doomed to their car prison and have realized they will never actually meet the lovely people they see around or in front of them. The frustration is overwhelming at this point, and may also be accompanied by depression.
-Angry Honk of Impending Doom: Blaring, loud honks that say "I hate you and would gladly kill you if it wasn't illegal. Then I'd rip your heart out while it was still beating and feed it to a Mongolian Dragon. Also you're a bad driver." These are rare, but once you've experienced one you never forget. These honks are reserved for maneuvers that almost kill one or both parties, but they both escape miraculously unharmed. Only delivered by very angry AND self-righteous drivers who aren't ashamed to let their middle fingers fly. These honkers are on the verge of insanity, if they haven't crossed over already. They have problems communicating in real life, which is only exacerbated by the conditions they find themselves in. Imagine, being in prison AND having people trying to kill you? Plus, your only voice is an angry sound that annoys and scares everyone who hears it. Enough to drive anyone mad.
So there you have it. Our culture of honking is all-encompassing, and bound to continue. It will only get worse as our feeling of non-communication grows with the walls built by phones and the internet. Imagine living in a world where you don't get to hug, touch, smell, lick, caress, hit, punch, or even kiss another human. Well, that's what we're doing to ourselves. Is it any wonder that honking is so pervasive these days?