Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2004 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
I prefer my plumbing dumb
Why am I standing at the sink in a public bathroom, waving? Do I think I recognize the sink? Am I that desperate for company? Or am I simply attempting to wash my hands?
The answer, of course, is "all of the above." But most of all, it's C, the hand-washing one, because this sink happens to be "fully automated," i.e., fully equipped not to spout any water at all, no way, forget it bub, unless somehow its infrared beam deigns to notice I'm standing there.
Yeah, and Ben Affleck deigns to act.
If you, like me, are a person who savors the simple joy of turning on and off a faucet, who still prefers to dry your hands with paper towels, who fully expects a toilet to refrain from flushing until you're good and ready, you are living in a dream world.
Or at least a dream bathroom.
"We're convinced that in the next five years, every public rest room will have moved to automation," says Mark Lewis, director of market development at Technical Concepts. That's the company behind most of the sensors now telling fixtures what to do, and when. He's the first to admit that the public may not be quite as psyched as he about what he calls "touch-free rest rooms."
"It's a challenge," he says, acknowledging that in the toilet realm there really was a problem with premature evacuation, or "inadvertent flushing," as the industry calls it.
"This goes back to the infrared beams not hitting the right part of a person's body," says Lewis, "so if you moved your arm" - to do something wacky like reaching for the toilet paper - "it would flush. What we've done now is angled the lens so it hits somebody in the small of the back." So, no wiggling, and the toilet should be able to contain itself for a few more seconds.
The good thing about all this automation is that the new sinks really do boast water savings of up to 70%. But the automatic toilets are not automatic to save water. They went high-tech because legions of women - yes, sisters, us - used to kick the flushers to keep our hands germ-free. This resulted in a lot of broken toilets. And shoes.
Steve Bronson, owner of a supply company called Air Delights, had an automatic toilet installed in his home to see if he could really endorse them. "They're nice!" he says. Now he'll never go back.
Perhaps, once we are all high-tech-toilet-trained, we will look back on manual bathrooms the way we look back now on chamber pots. But I will always have a soft spot for sinks that don't think. And toilets that aren't watching my back.
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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.
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