Sunday, September 30, 2007
Someone once said (I think it was Nicholas Negroponte, from the MIT Media Lab) that a Japanese toilet knows more about you than your home computer. (This was in the days when a self-flushing toilet was the vanguard of environmental technology.) I think this was meant to be both critical of your home computer, and complimentary to Japanese toilets.
Unfortunately, bathroom technology sometimes is actually sadly lacking, and other times is getting completely out of hand. When it is out of control it may seem like those horror movies where technology develops a mind of its own, and then strikes back in revenge. However, the truth is more prosaic. The problem is not smart toilets but stupid toilet programmers and designers.
Here are some of the problems with public bathrooms: both of commission and omission, randomly ordered.
- In heavily used men's bathrooms -- such as the ones at Thruway rest stops -- the floor is nearly always all wet -- and not from the last mopping.
- Toilets which self flush often self flush while you are still close by -- or on them. And they are powerful. Which means the (lethal) spray is sprayed far and wide, and on you. (Some people fight back by plugging the seeing eye with chewing gum.)- In fancy bathrooms (usually in fancy hotels and fancy restaurants), it's sometimes hard to figure out how to use the toilet or the sink or the dryer. It may require instructions (a manual or a tutor, perhaps) to learn where and how to wave your hands to coax some water from the sink, a paper towel from the automatic (non) dispenser, or a flush from a less agressive toilet than I described above. There have even been some men's rooms where it's not at all clear where to urinate.
- Blowers are often used instead of paper towels. While paper towels do need a disposal can which has not filled up yet, blowers blow toilet air all around -- which is not pleasant, and they don't work for drying your face or wiping your eyeglasses.
- No comment is needed on broken toilets, toilets that get stuffed up too easily, toilets that are rarely cleaned, sinks that don't work, soap dispensers that are empty, etc...
- When some bathrooms are crowded, there is no easy way to get to the sink, or having gotten to the sink, to get to the towels.
- There should, by now, be enough information on the relative usage of men's and women's restrooms at concerts and plays and other events to design and maintain enough rooms for each (though it's always interesting when some frustrated and uncomfortable woman crashes the men's room because they haven't the patience to wait long enough for the other).
- It can also be annoying when the bathroom is designed so that passers-by can look in.
- As for people issues, I don't know how anyone can bring food into a public toilet for any reason other than to throw it out. I think women are completely wrong about wanting men to put the toilet seat down: in any public M/F toilet (such as on an airplane), women should be fanatic about leaving the toilet seat up, because some men will be too lazy to lift it up before urinating (on it, as no doubt happens from time to time).
- As a sanitary practice, some people take a piece of paper towel to open the bathroom door and exit. So it would be good to have a waste basket near enough to the door so that the paper towel does not end up on the floor. Or, just have the door push out, not in.
Please add your own gripes about public toilets in the comments; or compliment and recommend some particularly well architected, designed, and maintained rest rooms.