Automation Technology and Human Performance: Current Research and Trends

By Mark W. Scerbo | Go to book overview
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Life, Liberty, and the Design of Happiness

P. A. Hancock

Liberty Mutual Research Center


As I turned off of Interstate 264 onto Waterside Drive, I had a distinct feeling, as Yogi Berra would have it, of 'deja vu all over again.' and this feeling grew even stronger as I turned for the Omni Hotel. As I stepped through its doors, the experience was complete - I knew I had been here before. As some who read this will know themselves from personal experience, the Omni, Norfolk was the site of the 1983 Annual Meeting of the Human Factors Society. It is now, as it was then, a wonderful location for a meeting. In 1983, I was a first year Assistant Professor with less than three months employment under my belt. In wondering what that individual would have made of his future self and, in turn, wondering what I now would have made of the fresh-faced version, I recalled an experience at the 1983 meeting that has been a constant lesson since. I use it here as an introduction to my present work.


A First Norfolk Story

Someone has to be the last presenter at a Conference and, in 1983, my turn had come. In a rather refined twist of cruelty, my session finished at 12:30, while the rest of the meeting had terminated by 12:00. Not then being a major hub, it was understandable that flights from Norfolk, especially to the West Coast were somewhat limited and in a rather piquant way, it was suggested to me that the 'last plane for civilization was leaving at high noon.')1 It was clear that presenters in my session were painfully aware of this as they each in sequence gave their talks, made their profuse but understandable apologies and headed for the door and their respective journeys. Soon after eleven, the audience was dwindling precipitately and it did not need significant mathematical expertise to work out that what were left were largely presenters and chairman.

As each individual presented and then left, the room grew a little more silent and as my turn approached I realized that this would not be a talk to a substantial number of the academy. The chairperson, who I am now pleased to number among my friends, got up to introduce me and then was forced to excuse himself since he too also had a deadline which could not wait (although he may have different version, please ask him, you can look it up). As I stood to announce my stunning scientific findings to the world, I was left with one audient. However, true to my self, I resolved to give full measure and for the next twenty minutes, with unstinting effort, I endeavored to lay before my solitary listener the nuances of 'space-time and motion study' ( Newell & Hancock, 1983). It is, I must add, one of the few conference proceedings papers for which I have ever had a reprint request. At the end of the twenty minutes when I had finished, the lady walked up to me and said in clear and ringing tones - 'Well, young man, I've only had the chance to hear one or two talks at this Conference but yours was clearly the best.' My dragging spirits rose a little and I inquired from which institution of higher learning she came. Her reply echoes in my mind even today:

'Oh! I'm not from any University, I'm here to clean the room, can you leave now please!'

I apologize to residents of the area, since it is one that I personally like a lot. It is a quote of someone else's words. However, if you have ever been around at the end of a major meeting when all the evidence disappears in a virtual instant, you can empathize with the sentiment.


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