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Bathroom technology has gone too far

| Wednesday, November 13, 2019

By and large, I’m grateful for the advancements made in bathroom technology over the course of human history. Flushing toilets and indoor plumbing? Wonderful. Heated water? A remarkable achievement. I think I speak for most of us when I say I’d rather use a 21st-century public bathroom than an 18th-century chamber pot. Truly, we’ve come a long way. 

Somewhere along that journey of innovation, however, we lost our senses. We’ve automated far too much of the bathroom experience; it has cost us our sanitation and peace of mind. It’s time we confront the unnecessary technologies plaguing our public restrooms. I’m talking about automatic-flushing toilets and hand dryers. 

I’ll start with the automatic flush. Listen, I get it: Not everyone flushes. I’ll be the first to admit this is a problem. But if grown adults won’t flush the toilet themselves, should we simply flush it for them? This strikes me as a systemic issue. I’d support a public information campaign or something, but we can’t automate our way out of this situation.

Automatic-flush toilets never flush at the right moment. Half the time, you’re sitting on the toilet minding your own business when out of nowhere, the water below you starts swirling. You know the feeling: the rush of panic, the unwelcome spray, a peaceful moment shattered. And when automatic toilets aren’t prematurely flushing, they’re not flushing at all. I’m not a scientist, but this pretty much only happens when a long line of people is waiting for you to finish your business. It’s never clear how you’re supposed to flush these things manually. My solution is usually to kick the toilet a few times, hoping I accidentally bump the right button. The success rate for this strategy is mixed.

After all that, even if by some miracle you manage to flush the toilet, you’re only confronted with another technological nightmare — the hand dryer.

Here’s the thing: We live busy lives, and if I’m being honest, sometimes I go to the bathroom just to get a moment of silence and solitude. I don’t even really have to pee; I just don’t want to be sitting in class anymore. I have great respect for our nation’s engineers, but I’d like to talk to the person who designed hand dryers. They’re so loud, I can’t hear myself think.

I’m also a little skeptical of a machine that blows hot air all over people’s wet hands. I’ve watched people wash their hands in public restrooms, and most people are not lathering with soap or scrubbing for 20 seconds. For many individuals, the hand-washing process is quick and dirty. Do we really want to spray that dirty water all over? I did a little digging on this topic, and my research confirmed my suspicions: hand dryers are nasty. If you don’t want to take my word for it, I encourage you to check out the USA Today article entitled “Hand dryers suck in fecal bacteria and blow it all over your hands, study finds.” I know these machines are supposed to eliminate the waste produced by paper towels, but there has to be a better solution.

Is this all worth it — the unpredictable toilet-water spray, the flying fecal bacteria, the ear-piercing vortex of hot air? Ultimately, this is a story of hubris. We humans think we can fix every problem with technology. Sometimes we can, but other times, we innovate our way into even more challenges. It’s time to return to some old-fashioned, time-tested bathroom techniques. Let’s set all this technology aside, teach adults how to flush the toilet, wash our hands with soap and water and dry our hands on our pants.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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