Sunday, June 19, 2011

Automatic for the people

I'm beginning to have real 'issues' with American toilets. Not the ones in homes, but public ones.

It's got nothing to do with germs or hygiene, either.

It's all about the flush factor.

You see, the lack of cistern/tank at the back of public toilets here means that they all more or less look the same. Unless there is an actual lever to pull, it's difficult to tell at a glance as to whether or not it's an automatic toilet. Just a small cylinder with pipes, and a few round buttons... or what appear sometimes to be a flush button, but is actually nothing of use.
(Photo source)

We all know what automatic toilets mean - getting one's privates splashed at times by an unexpected flush, if hovering for just a second too long between sitting and standing. I first found out the hard way when using a toilet at the airport in Amsterdam. Given the amount of Mary Jane consumed that day (hey, I was young!), to say I was freaked out is an understatement.

So there you go. I don't like automatic toilets... but if there's one thing worse than an automatic toilet, it's not being able to tell.

I like to be prepared, and know how quickly to get my butt up and away. Knowing in advance that a toilet is automatic helps to avoid those cold splashes of shock.

Unfortunately, most public toilets look the same. Too often, I go about my business and hurriedly retreat, waiting for the flush... and waiting... to realise it's not automatic. Then begins the fun of trying to locate a button on the pipes at the back. Sometimes it's easy to see, sometimes it's well-camouflaged - one of several round, shiny surfaces on the pipe.

Sometimes the small black circle is a motion sensor. Sometimes it's a manual flush button.

You know, signage or labels wouldn't hurt, would they? Or maybe it's just me.

Having had family in town this past week has meant that we've been out and about every day, and have had to rely on using public toilets from time to time. The odds of me getting peeved with my 'awkward' toilet encounters were quite high.

Please. Someone tell me I'm not alone in hating these modern American loos, or whatever you call them.
I'm not weird, I'm really not...

Toilets aren't the only things of an automatic nature that are prolific here. It seems that in most restrooms, the taps (faucets) and soap dispensers have motion sensors too. Again, I often feel stupid when waving my hand around under the tap, waiting for that stream of water to start. Sometimes, waiting... then realising the tap is faulty and I need to move on to another one.

Then there are the paper towel dispensers that have motion sensors.

Only this morning, I saw a video taken by some friends of mine, in a parents room, changing their daughter's nappy. Some genius had thought it would be perfect to place the paper towel dispenser flush level alongside the baby change table. Brilliant! Every time my friend's baby kicked her legs, more paper would churn out of the dispenser. It was noisy, got in the way of her legs, and scared her - making her kick her legs more, starting the cycle all over again. Painful and funny to watch.

The argument that these 'advances' in technology are great for hygiene makes me laugh. What's the point in avoiding touching those things, if in the end, you still need to touch the doors to get out?

This need for things to be automatic - to have one less button here to push, one lever less there to pull... does it really improve our quality of life? Especially for such trivial tasks? I can't help but wonder about the culture of laziness that's inspired this technology.

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