THE HUMAN FACTOR: Revolutionizing the Way People Live With Technology by Kim Vicente (Knopf), 351 pages, $36.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
When people can't figure out how to fix a computer problem or program their VCR, you often hear them sigh, "I'm just not tech-savvy." U of T engineering professor Kim Vicente suggests you look at it another way: it's not that you don't get the technology, it's that the technology doesn't get you.
Vicente's The Human Factor introduces the term human-tech to serve as an antidote to the high-tech and low-tech designations currently in use.
For example, the Fender Stratocaster guitar was designed with human beings in mind. What made the Strat different (and so popular) was the fact that it came closer to meeting guitarists' needs. The body was reshaped so it didn't dig into the player's ribs, and the tuning pegs were all put on the same side of the neck for quick access.
But the true definition of technology includes the non-physical stuff that contributes to complex technological systems: work schedules, staffing and legal regulations, etc.
Vicente looks at what he calls socio-technological systems like the aviation industry, health care and the Walkerton tragedy. It might been have been prevented had the government taken the human factor in water treatment technology into account.
Other examples have come up since the book was released - like the GO Train's chronic failure in frigid temperatures due to a newly implemented "high-tech" signalling device.
A compelling read.