Bathrooms, Technology and the Common Man

restroom stallsTechnology is a beautiful thing. It lets us wander the beautiful streets of Manhattan, amidst her majestic skyscrapers, expensive stores and bustling throngs, completely focused on a screen the size of my hand. What better way to connect with the world than to disconnect from it? In all fairness, technology also lets me have a job in one of those tall buildings, creating content for people looking at those tiny devices. I’m grateful for that. Though lately I’ve been feeling a little vulnerable.

Technology also seeps into the private corners of our lives. Take a look in consider the bathrooms in my office. The sinks turn on by themselves, activated by motion sensors that detect hands underneath a faucet. The toilets flush when you step away. They’re even beta-testing a robot that will relieve itself for you, so you can continue working.

I, for one, am a big fan of bathroom technology. Who really wants to touch a handle that someone else just touched with their pee-speckled hands? Not this desk jockey, that’s for sure. A short walk to the sink becomes still more fraught with someone else’s residue on your fingers. Suppose you have a sudden itch on your face that you just happen to scratch, without really thinking… Um, yeah, gross. The auto-flush toilet solves this problem. The auto-on sink at the other end of the transaction keeps your hands untainted after washing, at least until you shake hands with that coworker who views hand-washing as optional.

Some of the urinals in my office, unfortunately, work a little too well (which is to say, not well). They flush with enough force to spray the floor below with toilet water. And while the gush doesn’t rival Niagara Falls, I’m also not wearing a poncho. A few sprinkles on my shoes and pant cuffs isn’t the end of the world. It can be easily avoided by simply taking a step back to zip up.

But toilet water flow is only part of the problem. The urinals also have overly sensitive motion detectors that interpret any twitch or shift or change in air pressure within my zip code to mean, as a toddler would put it, “all done.” So, say, someone farts in their office, across the hall from the bathroom, when I’m midstream and in no position to step back. The toilet will flush, spraying my pants with toilet water. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Why not use a stall instead? Problem solved, now back to work, you ingrate perv who insists on talking about bathrooms on the internet. If only life in skyscraper land were that easy. Many of the toilets feature the same super-sensitive motion detectors, and more water. Then there’s another important piece of technology, one that should’ve been perfected a century ago. The door latches in those stalls don’t quite catch. So not only can an imperceptible shift in air pressure lead to a cold splash of toilet water, it can loosen the stall latch just enough to let the door swing open.

I learned of this other minor technological flaw while enjoying a little quality me time one afternoon. I’ll spare you, kind reader(s), the gory details. Let’s just say that the repeated exposure I received was not the type one looks for at work.

Technology that makes life easier, that lets us share and unload, can also leave us vulnerable. That includes smartphones, and that includes bathrooms. Slight imperfections reveal to the world what we’d really rather keep private, whether it’s our business or, um, our business. It’s enough to make you keep that thing in your pants.