Revisited: High-tech restrooms

It’s probably a good indicator that technology has gone too far when it shows up in the bathroom.

I don’t think it makes me a Luddite to complain that the last innovation worth a crap was the invention of indoor plumbing and that every improvement since has been merely gilding the lily. There are certain basics that seem totally sufficient without the addition of electronic circuitry and motion-sensing equipment. There’s only one movement I need to be sensing when it comes to using the facilities. I find everything else that’s going on in the modern restroom to be distracting at best and embarrassing at worst.

The men’s room at my office recently received such an unnecessary upgrade. You can’t help but wonder about corporate priorities when somewhere there’s a budget line item that pays for urinals that no longer require manual flushing. These appeared one recent Monday morning and caused quite a stir. I hadn’t noticed the innovation when I stepped up to do my business and was more than a little startled to find that a certain requisite shaking had set off rushing waters before I even had the chance to step away.

I think what bothered me more than the wasteful spending (pun intended) was the presumptuousness that flushing was necessarily the next logical step in the process. I admit it’s hard to come up with other realistic scenarios, but still I wanted to make the decision myself to reach up and depress the lever which would dispatch the urine. We already have enough standard process steps that don’t require any thought or creativity at work as it is. I resented this further incursion into my decision-making. If it’s meant as a labor-saving device, I can frankly use the exercise.

On my next several trips to the urinal, I brought along a sticky note to cover the motion sensor, allowing me to walk away and flush when I was damn well ready. Maybe there’s a person watching via the Internet in some business support services operation halfway around the world who was actually triggering the flush. I’ve never quite understood how motion-sensing works, so I can’t dismiss this other possibility in our increasingly globalized economy.

The next innovation to appear was not exactly as ground-breaking, since it’s been employed in gas stations around the country for the last twenty years. But when we got our hot-air hands-drying blower, it was installed under the guise of concern for the environment. “Save a tree” implored the home-made sign that urged us to forsake the paper towels. Now I’m all for environmental preservation but I just don’t see how my use four or five times a day of the flimsy sheets they give us is going to make much difference. Especially when these high-powered heat-belchers sound like they’re wasting as much energy as my lawnmower and take about as long to dry my hands as my mower takes to start.

The last upgrade we got came just a few weeks ago in the form of the scent-mister installed just above the urinal that periodically sprays some sort of antiseptic essence down a short tube and into the bowl. It’s not a motion-sensing device (nor an odor-sensing device as near as I can tell) but instead apparently works from an internal timer. So I guess the good thing about it is that you can’t take its activation as a commentary on the quality of your waste. But the down side is that the timer makes the scenting so unpredictable that the little “squeak-whoosh” it emits can scare you off your aim. It’s a pretty nice smell though – one of my coworkers said he might stop bothering to buy cologne altogether and just stick his wrists under the tube.

The final straw, I think, will be one of those motion-sensing spigots on the sink – the kind that require you to wave your hands around like some sort of airport tarmac guy in order to get any water. You’re never quite sure where the rays are coming from, so I’ve just gotten in the habit of dancing frantically in front of the sink when I encounter one of these (those Boomers who remember “doing the Freddy” with the sixties band Freddy and the Dreamers will have some idea of what my efforts resemble). It’s a bit embarrassing if someone else emerges from a stall during this display, especially if that someone is a Republican senator, but what else can you do? We Fifty-Somethings have to adapt to a modern world.

Even though I was perfectly happy with the status quo before this plumbing revolution started a few years ago, there are a couple of inventions I wouldn’t mind seeing in the next wave. One would be some kind of indicator that the urinal is currently in use for those entering our men’s room at work. The single stand-up unit is positioned around a tight corner past the last sit-down stall, and if you don’t know it’s in use – especially if your mission is urgent – you may find yourself running into the back of the current occupant.

The other thing I’d like to see is some sort of microwave device directed at my prostate that would get me out of this brave new world faster than the 8 to 10 minutes it’s currently taking.

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One Response to “Revisited: High-tech restrooms”

  1. tom1950 Says:

    It’s the hand dryers that get to me the most. I wear hearing aids and when one of those damn things starts up I have to immediately (no matter what I’m doing) reach up with both hands and frantically pound at each ear to select “Turn me the hell OFF!” for each aid.

    The nicer of places offer both jet engine and paper towels. The rest just offer the engine so I have to poke among the stalls for some of the tissue paper they use to dry my hands. Speaking of which, do you suppose there is a factory somewhere where development of micron-thin (instead of the normal two-micron) toilet paper for use in public restrooms is under development?


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