Brainmatters | That Keeping the Fire Burning Feeling


My wife was recently waiting to be served at the bakery in Erica in the province of Drenthe, where we sometimes go on weekends. She asked my wife if we planned to go to the Giants Gala. My wife looked at her in astonishment. We are pretty familiar with the summer festivals, but this one had slipped under our radar. It turns out that the Giants Gala (organized by Giant FM) is a parade of Dutch-speaking artists. Giants like Jannes, Frank Rocks, and Henk Wijngaard all do a turn. Not forgetting Eric Mesie from the band Toontje Lager. It had passed us by.

Apart from Eric Mesie, Henk Wijngaard was actually the only name I could recall. The now ageing rocker had a big hit forty or so years ago with Keeping the Fire Burning, a number he wrote himself “Keeping the Fire burning I race through the Brenner Pass. With my thirty tonnes of diesel, far from home, but as happy as a lark”. It is the anthem of every self-respecting trucker.

I wonder whether Henk Wijngaard will write another song anytime soon about Platooning, which is when trucks tailgate each other to form a train, as a way of saving fuel. The trucks brake automatically and adjust their speed to suit other vehicles in the train. It is an important step towards the fully self-driving truck. Not exactly Keeping the Fire Burning, if you ask me, but certainly economical.

Self-driving trucks and cars have become fodder for psychologists. As it turns out, if something is done continuously and reliably by a machine, at a certain point people lose interest in it. This has a couple of effects. Firstly, we lose our skills because we practice less. Secondly, we lose our oversight of the situation (situation awareness as it is called) because we have not paid attention to how it came about. This becomes a problem when the self-driving car suddenly decides that it cannot keep tabs on the whole situation, after all. As a rule this occurs not on a quiet road with good visibility, but at a busy junction, in the pouring rain, at road works where a traffic officer is directing the traffic. At a time like this, the enfeebled driver is summoned to resume control of the steering wheel. And suddenly life looks A Lot Like Keeping the Fire Burning again.

Not long ago research was carried out at the Flanders Institute for Logistics on what truck drivers will do with all that spare time they will have on their hands in their self-driving trucks. Taking language courses was one suggestion. Value Added Trucking the project was called. If that doesn't offer scope for a Henk Wijngaard number, I don't know what does.   

Wijnand IJsselsteijn | professor Cognition and Affect in Human-Technology Interaction

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