Our Hope Lies In The Invisible People
I have what some might call an “unusual fascination” with the mundane. Today I was reminded of that when pulling up to a traffic light.
Now, to be honest, some older traffic lights are ridiculously routine. They run their cycle, whether there’s traffic or not. However, this signal I went through today seems to have a little bit of intelligence. Having been through that intersection many times, I’ve noticed that this signal only gives a green light when someone is waiting for it. Maybe there’s nothing unusual there. But it is interesting that nobody ever notices.
One thing I’ve noticed about traffic lights is that if the opposing signal is yellow and you’re not waiting at the line, it might make you wait for another cycle. Ergo, pulling up at that very last second before the opposing light turns red may not be very advantageous. Now and again, it borders on the irritating, when the opposing light goes yellow, then back to green. Fortunately, I haven’t seen this but a few times, but — at least in my weird mind — it was memorable just because it was SO unusual.
But here’s the point. Traffic lights are a lot like breathing. We breathe, but we don’t think about it, or the deep and complex science behind it. We drive, but we rarely think about the intelligence behind something as mundane as a traffic light. Yet the operation of traffic lights is a brilliant display of human ingenuity. Somewhere, probably in some dark government-style basement (well, that’s how I imagine it), brilliant people are dreaming up ways to make traffic lights — and therefore traffic — better for all of us. Maybe they win awards and get parades for all the great things they do? Having never seen any kind of parade for traffic light programmers, I’m betting they probably don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Many significant innovations have been brought alive by people working with nothing more than an idea and a belief that it was possible.
From Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine, the Steves (Jobs and Woz) with Apple Computer, Nicola Tesla and electricity, Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, and countless others, human innovation is one of the most significant, life-changing forces in the known universe. (Stand down, Neil Degrasse Tyson, I’m making a point.)
Today, as humanity faces a daunting foe — COVID-19 — our rescue does not lie with governments or process or policy or even money. Instead, humanity’s rescue is wholly in the hands of the innovators like chemists, virologists, medical professionals, and a whole host of otherwise invisible people who have nothing more than an idea and a belief that it is possible. Let us support these people and their research with all we can.
Finally, when this is all said and done, by God, let’s buy them superhero capes.