Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Wisdom of Crowds/Idiocy of Herds

I just reread my blogposts from our first months in China. It's funny, of all the things that I said, it's my comment about wearing a bicycle helmet that, one year on, looks odd. I said I was wearing one because everyone does these days. But this is not true. What I actually meant, though I didn't realize it at the time, is that everyone in the US, where I was living up to that moment, wears one. If I'd looked around fellow cyclists in China, I would have noticed that not one single person had one on. And now I've lived in China more than one year, I'd never dream of wearing one either. It's funny, you think you are wearing a helmet because the safety statistics tell you that it's what you should be doing. In fact, you're only wearing it because seeing so many people around you wearing one makes you feel you should. Take away all the peer pressure, and you no longer bother. And it doesn't just apply to bicycle helmets...
It also applies to bicycle lights! I have been quite careful about always having bicycle lights ever since a formative experience while a student at Oxford when one of those cycling busybodies the city seems to have a lot of shouted at me about the dangers of not having any. But as we were going out to dinner a few nights ago, cycling through Beijing's hutongs or alleys to get to a small restaurant, Charlie asked if he should attach the light to his bike. "No" I advised. "No one else does." It almost seemed to me like the red light would be confusing for the other cyclists and pedestrians. Everyone here is used to scanning their path for looming dark objects, if you suddenly put some bright light in the middle it would put everyone off kilter. Yes: after only 15 months in China, I no longer see having lights on my bicycle as an essential device for helping others see me in the dark, but as a distraction that will cause more accidents than it prevents. 

No comments:

Post a Comment