Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

In which the author finds beauty in how people tell other people what to do.

Month: March, 2013

Fingers Out!

no_fingersThis is a picture of a warning sign inside the gears of an escalator in the building I work in. The escalator was under repairs.

The sign seems a bit like overkill, doesn’t it? It’s hard to imagine anyone being remotely tempted to stick their fingers into the gears of a machine capable of lifting a few thousand pounds of human beings.

Fill in the Blanks

blankHere’s a sign (or rather, a “sign”) posted on the fence of a Toronto school.

Presumably whatever it once said was not important enough to warrant keeping the sign legible. Of course, in posting this pic, I’m assuming that whatever it was said was something normative. It’s size and location make that a reasonable assumption, I think.

I suppose this sign is roughly as informative as yesterday’s sign.

Look it up!

Education_actThis one is on a fence around a Toronto school. It says “Entry upon this school site for any purpose inconsistent with the Education Act is prohibited.”

Wow. I realize that ignorance of the law is no defence, but do they actually think anyone reading this sign is going to be familiar with the Education Act and its requirements? This is clearly what you get when you allow lawyers to make signs.

I guess from a normative point of view, the goal here is to make the sign emphatic, by pointing to legislation. And maybe, at some basic level, that could work. But I wonder if it actually informs behaviour, when so few people will know just what’s in the relevant legislation, and hence just what the sign is actually prohibiting.

Your Problems Are Not My Fault

Wayne Norman sent this one, of a truck on a highway in North Carolina. I like the two-part message. First, the advice: “Stay back 200 ft.” Ok, good advice (even if not heeded often). Big trucks often kick up stones that can crack windshields. So far so good.

Then comes the disclaimer: “Not responsible for windshields.” That part raises questions! Who says the driver (or owner?) of the truck is not responsible? Is that a claim about legal liability? And if so, is it true? And does it mean strictly not responsible, or not responsible if you don’t heed the advice about keeping your distance?

Don’t Fall Down

dont_fallThis seems like a reasonable suggestion. Or a reasonable request, I suppose.

Posted at a drinking establishment near my house — at the top of the stairs leading down to the basement washroom.

Flush, and then Flush

flushWhen I first saw this sign in a men’s room in the building I work in, I thought: “Wow, I don’t want to know the history behind that one.” I do love normative signs that make compliance a matter of courtesy, though.

Don’t Steal This

dont_steal_meSometimes, all you have to do is ask nicely.

This picture was sent to me by PY Neron. Roughly translated, the sign says “Don’t Steal This, Please.” PY says the chair has been sitting there, on the sidewalk outside a shop in Lille, France, for months.

Crocs Be Gone

croc safetyThis was at the base of an escalator at a Toronto movie theatre. You know your shoes are problematic when people feel obligated to post signs warning you against wearing them.

“Hey, you! Yeah, you in the Crocs! We just can’t assume you’ll be able to figure out how to keep yourself safe. After all, you’re wearing Crocs to a movie. So please please be extra careful, OK?”

Sign of the Apocalypse?

My friend Mason Cash sent me this one, from Florida. The image is actually captured from Google Maps Streetview, here: image.

Here’s what Mason had to say about the sign:

First, I love the warning…to beware of something that is explicitly labelled as merely possible.

Most road signs don’t bother to assert the possible status of the hazard, and warn of actual hazards (“wind gusts”, “children crossing”, “wildlife on road”, etc.) leaving unsaid the fact that these are only sometimes present, or explicitly identifying the times they are present (“slippery when wet”).

Second, it’s a warning intended to enable drivers to avoid a hazard. Yet this warning is given at a place in the road where you are completely committed to continuing across the lake, so its a warning about which the driver can do very little, even if there are actual (not merely possible) swarms over the lake.

Often these are swarms of bugs that don’t impede visibility significantly, but will damage to a paint job of not cleaned off immediately. So slowing down doesn’t help much. You have just passed through a toll gate and paid your $2 to cross on the bridge, and so there is no exit or anything you can take. And you are not allowed to stop on the side of the road (you are on a toll highway bridge) except in an emergency.

Giving the warning before the previous exit would give the driver the option of taking the non-toll route around the late, at least. But the choice of the location of the warning sign makes any such choice impossible.

Not quite irony

This ‘Watch your step!’ sign would be unremarkable (in Toronto, in winter). Except when you see its location: