The Ecology of Human-Machine Systems: A Personal History
John M. Flach Wright State University Armstrong Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
I first became interested in the ecological approach to psychology when, as a graduate student at Ohio State, I heard Rik Warren describe the properties of flow fields and how they might be specific to properties of locomotion such as heading, altitude, and speed. It occurred to me that these descriptions of optical structure may have far more relevance to understanding a skill, such as landing a plane, than the changes in slope or intercept of a reaction time function that were, at that time, central to the chronometric analyses of mind that dominated much of my graduate training (even though these reaction times may have been measured while the operator was simultaneously flying a simulator). As I learned more about the ecological approach it seemed obvious to me that challenges such as understanding automobile driving and flight were important to the evolution of Gibson's theories about behavior. It was surprising to me that those interested in human factors and those interested in ecological approaches to behavior were not actively embracing each other's theories and problems. However, I have always tended to underestimate the inertia in systems. Although the merging of ecological theories and human factors challenges has not happened as quickly as I expected, I think there is a gradually accelerating movement toward communion. This book is perhaps evidence of this movement and will hopefully be a stimulus to encourage a continuing movement toward communion.
To set the stage for this book, I would like to briefly present my