"The great mystery, after all, is not the answers that scientists contrive, but the questions they are driven to pose. Why? Why this question rather than another? Why this search, hope, despair, rather than another? Why this ill-lit, nil understood, hobo path? And why the outrageous confidence, born of no evidence, to tred it?"
- Kauffman S. A. ( 1993). The origins of order. (pp. vii-viii), Oxford University Press.
In the developed world, our ecology is technology. There are few individuals on this planet whose everyday lives are not substantively affected by the action of technical systems albeit at differing levels of sophistication. At the confluence of technology and ecology we see two components of a singular opportunity. The first is the chance to test the principles of ecological psychology against human factors concerns regarding the design and operation of human-machine systems. The second is the chance to pose meaningful questions to the ecological theorist about just which "real" world they choose to focus their efforts on.
The first effort is particularly relevant at present because the information-processing approach, which sets the foundation for much of what we now know as human factors, has broached problems that expose some of the weaknesses of its theoretical basis. Lest some believe us over ardent ecologists, let us state for the record that we still see much that is vital in the information-processing approach, where the nature of the "information" to be processed can be specified with more precision. Further, the wise man does not throw away hard won knowledge and basic understanding in whatever paradigm such understanding is couched, and we would loath to be thought foolish. Indeed, those in human factors are frequently marked by an eclectic pragmatism, especially when the practitioner is "required" to produce an immediate, ready-made answer.
In short, we see the ecological approach as one that offers an alternative view. A view that has provided us with additional insights into how people work with machines. Its value is not as much in the answers it offers, but in the questions it raises.
An eventual integration between information processing and the ecological approach is not one we would rule out and is briefly discussed by several of the authors. However, we believe that