When I was in primary school back in the 1970s, we had the police come to class and talk to us about a very important issue. Traffic lights. Well not the lights themselves, but the button for the walk signal. I remember it clearly because it didn’t make any sense, even as a 9 year old boy, although I did end up in career where logic is the primary skill.
Anyway, according to this “policeman”, as they were still called in those days, when you press the walk button, a timer starts counting down, and when the counter gets to zero, the traffic lights go orange then red and then the walk sign comes on. This made sense to me, the traffic would flow until someone needed to cross, and a simple clock and a couple of relays would probably have been the limit of the electronics around then anyway. Not like modern lights with multiple clocks all networked back to base for traffic congenstion logic.
But then it got weird. It seems the whole purpose of his visit was to warn us kids of something quite serious. To warn us not to press the button more than once. His logic, which I assume was official police curriculum, was that every time you press the button, the timer starts again. So if you keep pressing it, it will never reach zero, and you’ll never be able to cross the road.
This annoyed me for years afterwards because I couldn’t figure out how it could be so badly designed, or how he misunderstood the logic so badly when explaining it to us.
Obviously 40 years on it still confuses me, so if any old timers out there know what on earth he was talking about, then please let me know!
And so things have come full circle, as my 5 year old daughter had a “police officer” visit them at school this week. The topic? Stranger danger and the recent attempted abduction of a boy walking home from school.
Has society really gotten so bad that we have way more active pedophiles than 40 years ago? Or is it just, as commonly suspected, that we and our parents were simply ignorant of the threat? After all, pedophilia is genetic, so surely the per capita hasn’t changed? Or has society and culture simply made them more brazen?
I still wonder about the logic of traffic lights. Every time I press that button, a part of me wonders whether it has any effect at all. Every now and again I keep pressing it as an expression of anger at a world no longer as innocent as it used to be.
The policeman that visited us back then is now probably dead, or close to it. I wonder if he ever thought about what he taught us. And I wonder if he knew there really were more important things to be concerned about than traffic lights.