Monday, February 01, 2010

Gap Acceptance

Humans are funny little critters sometimes. We have this tendency to want and strive for the very best. If we're actively working on our goals, it's pretty easy to keep waiting. We feel like we're making progress, so we keep working and waiting. When we're waiting for something that we can't work toward, something for which we can only wait, it's different. We start to get impatient. We start to think about settling for something less than our ideal.

I'm sure you've seen this in people you know, or yourself, even. Someone's just gotten out of a bad work situation, or a bad romance (RRRRRRRRoma roma maaaa!) and they are TOTALLY NOT DOING THAT AGAIN. But a couple of months go by, they're still single and dateless, or unemployed, and waiting. There isn't anything they can do to get closer to a job or a date other than going places, putting themselves out there, waiting for someone to reciprocate their interest. After their sharp memories of the previous bad situation have had time to fade a little, they start thinking they'll take a bad job, just to have some money coming in. They'll go on a bad date, just to get the mojo moving. The longer the wait, the lower the standards, until the inevitable repetition of the previous bad job/romance/etc.

Of all the people in the world to have a great, simple phrase to describe this phenomenon, it's the Traffic Engineers. Yes, the people whose sexiest contribution to society is the traffic light that switches to a blinking light just in time to confuse people driving home from IHOP after closing down the bar summed up in two concise words an ancient and baffling complex of human behaviors. They call it "gap acceptance" and they have to deal with it, too. When you first pull up to an intersection to make a turn into busy traffic, you won't jump into the first tiny hole in traffic that pops up. You will only accept a nice, long gap in traffic. Your "gap acceptance" is low, you're holding out for a good one. The more that busy traffic rolls right by you, the later you get for your very important date, the higher your "gap acceptance" gets and the smaller a gap you're willing to settle for. If they can't time the traffic lights such that you can find a safe gap, you'll jump into an unsafe one. Also, they work hard to make sure that from your vantage point, you can tell whether or not the gap is an acceptable one, meaning your view of oncoming traffic isn't blocked.

It would be nice if life would take that last precaution, no? To ensure that as you sit waiting for whatever it is you're helplessly and impatiently waiting for that you could see swirls and eddies in the probability field approaching you. It would be pretty awesome if it looked like swirling smoke. Red might mean high probability that your desired outcome was approaching. Every time a big blob of red swirled your way, you could get excited about it. But when you were in a fog of blue, green, yellow, purple, you could just sit back and know that there was a patch of red over on the horizon. It might drift your way if you just take a nice deep breath in and hang on.


Eduardo said...

Great analogy. Thanks for translating into engineering language.

Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

Oh! That was engineering language! I thought it was just explaining why it was scary to drive to work! Yes, nice translation. (I say, even though I don't think I speak engineering).