Today’s analytics revolution is as much about the ergonomics of human-data interaction as it is about big data technology itself. And, the more I’ve looked into this human/data nexus, the more it’s become clear to me how today’s big data frontier also happens to be the latest frontier in the very old discipline of ergonomics.
Put simply, ergonomics is the study of people in their work environments. Scientists at a 1949 convention first coined the term, which – given its derivation from the Greek word for work, ergon – literally means the economics of work. The discipline was a natural outgrowth of the historic national mobilization of industry that helped arm the United States for World War II. When the dust literally settled from that war, scientists sought to understand the physical and mental toll these unprecedented productivity demands had placed on both factory workers operating machinery and soldiers operating armaments on the battlefield.
Conceived as a two-way street where equipment is ideally designed for human use and humans are ideally trained to run equipment, ergonomics can boost productivity, protect workers and even save lives. Some aviation accidents are attributed to flawed console design, and an investigation into the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident ascribed partial responsibility to poorly-designed control room instrumentation. That same decade, we also saw the birth of a new ergonomic sub-specialty known as human-computer interaction.
Human-Computer Interaction in the Era of Big Data
HCI, as the field of study has been known since 1975, covers a range of factors involving computer science, media studies, anatomy, behavioral sciences and design. Much of this progress is right at our fingertips. The computer mouse was invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1964 as a new way to control computers and became a hit two decades later when Apple released the Macintosh. And while Apple founder Steve Jobs was not big on the word ergonomics, his legendary obsession with hardware and software design – down to the exact curves of devices and fonts alike – gave rise to products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad as HCI milestones.
HCI researchers scrutinize everything from posture and eye strain to web interfaces and graphical user interface design to explore the physical and perceptual factors that define how we interact with computers. But given that we are now in an era of big data analytics, what about how humans interact with data itself?
Addressing that question is a central focus of the Sentient Enterprise approach, as natural human interaction with data will lead to the discovery of new insights, faster.