As Rachel Baker described her study of the experiences of travelling by train from London to Edinburgh, I was surprised and pleased to hear that the reactions of train drivers closely resembled what I remember of a similar study of train driving that I made in the nineteen-fifties.
Rachel found, as I did, that train drivers have to know their positions accurately as the speed of a train can only be changed very slowly. Slowing down from say 100mph to zero can take up to fifteen minutes. Drivers judge their positions largely by ear, different tracks and inclines having different sounds. They can do this even in fog.
In my own study of fifty years ago I found the same thing - the drivers made little use of the visual displays provided by the design engineers and instead learnt to use their ears. The first driver I met put his coat over the display panel! The designers did not seem to know how the operators of their equipment did the job.
I have often come across such examples of users and operators teaching themselves skills of which the manufacturers and designers are unaware and which embody more intelligence than 'uneducated' people are credited with.
At the meeting this led me to remark on how much more lively and informative things become once one takes the point of view of the people involved instead of limiting oneself to mathematical models and the abstract functional language of technology.
This leaves me asking if the designing and evaluating of new technologies can begin, not from academic abstractions and theories, but from experience itself? I imagine that, if we can change our design languages from abstraction to 'humanity', the designed parts of the world can indeed become human and inspiring instead of being so often inhuman and stressful and thoughtless...
This has been perhaps the main aim, even the cry, of my existence - but so far it has not been realised. I believe there is huge resistance within us to making this change - our economic security is involved. Many of us have vested interest in keeping the system under the sub-divided control of professionals (i.e. ourselves!).
Dorothy Rather, 1904 - 1995, who fed the birds here.I remember her doing so - with perhaps a hundred pigeons flying in and around the pine trees when she arrived with a bag of food. They don't come any more.
As I sat nearby I was still thinking of the need to design industrial living from live experience instead of from abstract theory - and I was reading more of Stuart Hampshire's Spinoza.These things began to connect in my mind:
In the sunlight. I feel visited by a warm connectiveness, between my practical memories and visions of train driving and many other industrial occupations and the almost unbounded precision and extent of Spinoza's theory of existence - his logical vision of there being a thought to each object and an object to each thought (if I may change his vocabulary a little)...
But my perception of this unity, as I sat here and began to read and write in the sun, is already fading - it is far from eternal - but it is valuable I feel, even as a memory in the sudden coldness of this place, among pine trees and grasses, now that the direct sunlight has gone...
Perhaps these dreams of a more human technology, and of a more connective philosophy, are as evanescent as evening and have to be recreated each day?
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