Do you remember the first time you approached an automatic door? You walked up to it and with a noise that sounds like a loud sigh, the mechanism sensed your presence and “open sesame!” Self-opening doors mostly do their opening by sliding sideways. There are exceptions, of course. There are those places where the doors swing wide, threatening to bump your nose and crush your toes. Automatic doors are great except when they remove two layers of skin from your face or feet. And something so great is bound to be copied. Now that the door has opened, as it were, on automation, those forward thinkers among us are embracing it warmly.
Like much of life, all the exciting parts of this story take place in the bathroom. And like much of what happens in the bathroom, the opportunities for embarrassment are rampant. For instance, you use the facilities. If you have been adequately trained in the basics of hygiene, you go to the sink to wash your hands. Now … does the water come on automatically or do you have to manually operate a faucet? The absence of two knobs on either side of the spigot is a good clue. But some faucets have a single control which can be astonishingly well-disguised. Let us assume for the moment you have definitely determined you are dealing with an automatic water delivery system. At this point, you are tasked with finding the sweet spot in the motion detector to turn the water on. If you move those hands to get some soap, the water goes off and you get to start over. And speaking of soap, is it automatically disgorged? Do you stand there, dripping furtively, shifting your hands trying to activate a mechanism that, in reality, just needs a couple of good pumps?
In a perfect world, you by now will have hands that have been wetted, soaped, and rinsed. Towels, towels … my kingdom for a towel. To complete the de-germing process, you have to (1) find the towel dispenser; (2) find out if the towel dispenser is automatic; (3) find the electric eye if it is; and (4) hope it’s stocked with towels.
This process is, of course, after the fact. First there is the business of doing the business for which you entered the bathroom in the first place. That’s when the question of automation becomes enormously pertinent. Because of cell phones.
Let me back up. Some toilets flush automatically. Some do not. Some look as though they do (no handle and that uber-creepy electric eye). But then they don’t flush. If you are a responsible citizen you will search for a way to make the area tidy. Most of the auto-flushers have an override button to allow for manual flushing. Some days, though, the most you can hope for is that the auto-flush doesn’t, you know, auto-flush.
Case in point. Many people carry their cell phones in their rear pocket. When certain genders use restrooms, they remove certain articles of clothing. This means certain telecommunication devices tend to fall out of that certain rear pocket. This is certainly bad.
Having your cell phone fall into a recently used toilet is unpleasant, unsanitary, and an undeniable path to getting your hands wet. And worse. Speaking of worse, it can get exactly that. If you have committed the unpardonable trespass of dropping your phone into a toilet, your first impulse (after uttering a few choice imprecations, some of which might be very fitting for a restroom setting) is to jump up. But the very act of jumping up can cause the auto-flush to perform its duty. Automation is pretty good, but no one has yet invented the automatic toilet that can tell the difference between stuff you really want to flush and stuff you really, really, really, really do not want to flush. I have a friend who calls this an “oopsie poopsie.”
Right up until the minute it happens to me.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.