from a review of “The Social Life of Paper”
On a busy day, a typical air-traffic controller might be in charge of as many as twenty-five airplanes at a time – some ascending, some descending, each at a different altitude and travelling at a different speed. He peers at a large, monochromatic radar console, tracking the movement of tiny tagged blips moving slowly across the screen. He talks to the sector where a plane is headed, and talks to the pilots passing through his sector, and talks to the other controllers about any new traffic on the horizon. And, as a controller juggles all those planes overhead, he scribbles notes on little pieces of paper, moving them around on his desk as he does. Air-traffic control depends on computers and radar. It also depends, heavily, on paper and ink.

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  1. Well, not really. They have “flight progress strips”, which are a printout of the active flight plan, and are subject to change – but not with ink. It’s all on computer of course. The radar is no longer monochromatic – it’s color for the “Centers” across the country (although approach control and local towers still have the green stuff).

    He also very rarely “talks” to anyone other than pilots. When an aircraft leaves his sector into another, he clicks on the target (with a trackball, no less) and initiates a computerized “handoff”. The receiving controller clicks on the target (which is now flashing) to “accept”. The pilot is then told to contact the new controller on a new frequency.

    So it’s not QUITE that bad. Remember – False Authority Syndrome is a BAD thing.


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