No Time of the Sign?

Imagine a Singapore without street signs signs, imagine Seoul without traffic lights, imagine Hong Kong without its nanny signs and announcements, imagine removing that great clutter of dos and don’ts that litter Asian road sides and cityscapes.

Asia often likes to think itself innovative and concerned with group rather than individual values. But in reality old Europe often seems more concerned with community over private interests, with relying on values rather than the law to keep citizens in order.

Just note the current experiment taking place in seven towns and cities in various European countries including Germany, Britain and the Netherlands.

They are getting rid of traffic signs and lights. They are in effect saying that exaggerated regulation which affects most of Europe has the opposite of its intended effect. Signs and commands are either ignored or foment resentment, or both. Psychologists argue that they remove the need for people to act responsibly, to be considerate to each other. Breaking rules itself becomes a challenge, in the process reducing capacity for socially responsible behavior. They forget civility, the individual’s capacity to help each other, by setting up an adversarial relationship between the sign planter and the road user.

Some countries are particularly sign-obsessed. Germany apparently has 648 varieties of road signs and a total of 20 million. Other European nations may be less order-conscious but some in Asia may have an even higher ratio of signs to citizens.

The experiment in getting rid of them will be confined to a mix group of locations ranging from a large village to a small city – eg Ipswich in England. Even if it works in these it may have limited relevance in big cities where anonymity is the norm and citizens’ consciousness of social responsibility may be more difficult to foster.

Hong Kong is one of the champions. The Information Services Department, for instance, publishes a list of 149 nanny-state announcements made available to television stations, ranging from “Learn Proper Teeth Cleaning Technique” to fighting crime by “Beware of Deceptions.” Or “Well-maintained windows keep us safe.” Light rail stations are papered over with signs that not only tell us to “Stand on the Right” or to watch our pockets.

In Asia it might be worth trying at two ends of the spectrum: Singapore with its obsession with rules and regulations. And Manila where no one takes any notice of the rules anyway so abolition of signs could not make things worse.

A partial list of advice made available to television stations by the Hong Kong Information Services Department: Smoke-free Workplace Smoke-free Restaurants Influenza Vaccinations Learn Proper Teeth Cleaning Technique Handle Vegetables Properly Avoid contact between raw and cooked foods Exercise more Healthy lunch Prevent Norovial gastroenteritis Healthy snacks Prevent Avian Flu (Household cleansing) Prevent Avian Flu (Personal hygiene) Keep water in your drainage taps Use a condom for safe sex Prevent Streptococcus suis infection Breastfeeding; the first step to lifelong health Enjoy Fruits and vegetables every day (1) Enjoy Fruits and vegetables every day (2) Enjoy Fruits and vegetables every day (3) Show care to people with HIV/AIDS Keeping a normal body weight Prevention of Japanese Encephalitis Prevent Avian Influenza (good hygiene) Prevention of mosquito bites Prevent cholera Influenza Hand, Food and Mouth Disease Prevent Avian Influenza (Don’t touch live poultry) Prevention of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome: Vigilant and Prepared Basic Law – Regional flag and Regional emblem Basic Law- Literary and Artistic Creation Civic Education Epidemic prevention Social Harmony (II) Social Harmony (I) Epidemic prevention Acceptance of new arrivals Clean Hong Kong Let’s Keep Hong Kong Clean Keep Hong Kong Clean Appeals during Festive seasons Littering fixed penalty fine Fight crime: Beware of thefts Beware of deceptions Take good care of your belongings Help the police combat crime (1) Help the police combat crime (2) Combat money laundering Sexual abuse Take good care of your belongings Beware of street deception Domestic burglaries Shop theft- price tag Watch out for computer crime Join us to fight youth crime Road safety and transport: Bus passenger safety Obey traffic lights Smart driving Route and exit numbers for drivers Wear seat belts of public light buses Everyone’s responsibility (3) Prevention of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome: Vigilant and prepared Beware of Dengue Fever act now Prevent Dengue Fever Family: Stop all family violence Family education (Commitment) Family education (Love and care) Nurturing families Zero tolerance for violence Zero tolerance for violence against women Family education (Teaching by example) Parenting The integrated scheme for domestic helper Self-protection Put a stop to elder abuse Inspect and repair electrical installations regularly Approved gas safety Proper and maintenance of electrical appliances Building safety 2004 Well-maintained windows keep us safe Keeping slopes safe Anti-drug Drugs screw up your life Choose your friends The Fact (4) Jail The Fact (3) Pressure The Fact (2) Hooked The Fact (1) Health Say NO to drugs (2) Education Collaboration, sharing and team spirit Respect for diversity Workplace English campaign (1) Sunny Day New Culture II (School-based management) Respect our teachers Rainstorm warning for schools and parents New Teaching & learning culture: Early childhood education New Teaching & Learning Culture: Effective English Teaching Liberal Studies (Dick Lee) Liberal Studies (Vincent Cheng) Continuing Education Fund Skills upgrading scheme Capacity Building Mileage Programme (4) Capacity Building Mileage Programme (3) Capacity Building Mileage Programme (2) Capacity Building Mileage Programme (1) Equal Opportunity in Education Hospitality Friendly Hong Kong, You make a difference (1) Friendly Hong Kong, You make a difference (2) Quality Service (5) Quality Service (4) Fire Prevention Give Way to Ambulances Do not Misuse the Ambulance Service Household Fire Safety Upgrade Fire Safety Measures The Fire Services (Fire Hazard Abatement) Regulation (II) The Fire Services (Fire Hazard Abatement) Regulation (I) Protect Your Countryside Prevent Hellfire Active Ageing Bamboo Scaffolds Think twice before you adopt a pet Volunteer Movement (Newspaper) Volunteer Movement (Football) Volunteer Movement (Office) Fight Corruption Act Now Subscription to telecommunications services – bundle Subscription to telecommunications services = contact Deep drains clear Red and Green Channel system In a Crowd – Stay Calm Unauthorized Developments in Rural NT Don’t Gamble Your Life Away Save Water Travel Insurance International Human Rights Covenants Automatic Passenger & Vehicle Clearance Cigarette duty-Free Concessions Hiking Safety Patronization of licensed guesthouses Illegal Cultivation Landlord and Tenant Ordinance 2004 Give support to Rehabilitated Offenders Support Rehabilitated Offenders