Your driving evokes murmurations in nature. Now slow down and back off!

Your driving evokes murmurations in nature. Now slow down and back off!

Viewing Earth from space through a tailgating lens looks like we’re all part of a system connected to the same network and hovering near our edge. We’re murmurating on a global scale.

GUILFORD — I'm going 5 mph above the limit, and you're a car length behind. And, as if we're singing along to the same song on the radio, we both mouth, “WTF?” You, because you're in a rush. Me, because you appear to be in my back seat.

I consider resorting to previous failed responses: cursing, fake braking, slowing down, pulling over, flashing lights, and flipping the bird. I've since matured and have posted across my rear window: “Only you can prevent tailgating.”

I wait for you to read, process, and pass. But you don't, so I blurt out my holier-than-thou tailgating mantra:

“I don't think your political persuasion has anything to do with your propensity to put my family's life in danger if I have to slam on my brakes to evade a turtle, sideswipe a pedestrian, or avoid an oncoming heart attack. Please back off!

I close with a hand gesture.

My wife, a therapist, is usually riding shotgun and scolds again that my behavior puts our family at more risk than your tailgating. Now I'm the bad guy.

I was hoping my non-offensive adaptation of Smokey Bear's successful “Only you can prevent forest fires” campaign would get you to back off sooner. Perhaps you'd have responded more promptly to one of my other bumper stickers, like “If you can see this, you're tailgating” or “Sorry for driving so close in front of you.”

Eventually, you pass and proceed to tailgate the poor soul in front of me. Of course, if you hit them it's going to be my fault for putting them in harm's way.

I guess I really am the bad guy. Lucky for me a therapist is still riding shotgun.

* * *

Consider this scenario: If you stay 4 seconds behind me for 1 mile, you'll finish 4 seconds after me. But you argue, “If I pass and go 5 mph faster than you, I'll get there in time.” Indeed you will. By 10 seconds. If you don't pass, think of me as your personal escort. Stay 4 seconds behind, and I guarantee safe passage.

Your behavior makes me think about murmurations in nature. Think of murmurations as wildlife tailgating on steroids. It happens when thousands of similar creatures like starlings undulate as one enormous high-speed cloud, twisting and turning on a feather in three dimensions without lanes or without having ever rehearsed. They're connected to the same network.

They're also examples of systems on edge, because one bird with a bad cough could throw their entire system into sudden disorder. And yet, I have never observed murmurating bees, fish, or birds spin out of control. I can't say that about murmurating commuters.

In your favor, there are a couple of advantages to murmurating. Tailgating creatures use less energy when following one another than their non-tailgating counterparts, just like you were doing when drafting behind me. And creatures that travel together are better at evading predators or cops than those of us who travel alone.

Natural murmurations shift my attention from you to the larger system. After all, you're just one starling among thousands trying to save some energy and evade predators. This doesn't mean you want to crash the system or toss me into your backseat.

* * *

Look - no one wants to feel guilty about how they drive when there are other critical systems on edge. Tailgating seems inconsequential compared to a pandemic, a war, the climate crisis, and the sixth extinction.

However, viewing Earth from space through a tailgating lens looks like we're all part of a system connected to the same network and hovering near our edge. We're murmurating on a global scale, bumper to bumper, side-by-side, drafting, adjusting, trying to pass one another as we race through our lives at an incredible rate of unsustainable consumption. We are just seconds from rear-ending ourselves over the edge of the very system we depend on. Nothing funny about that. I skid you not.

Maybe if enough of us slow down and back off a bit - just a little bit more - we can figure out how to get to our destination without throwing the whole flock out of whack.

And if you were the driver four seconds behind me the other day, thank you!

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