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The Northerner

High-tech bathrooms can help or hinder

Lenore Skenazy

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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. That’s because this sink happens to be “fully automated,” i.e., fully equipped not to spout any water at all, no way, unless somehow its high-tech infrared beam deigns to notice I’m standing there.

Yeah, and Ben Affleck deigns to act.

Don’t hold your breath – but feel free to gnash your teeth. 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 international company behind most of the infrared beams and motion sensors now telling public bathroom fixtures what to do, and when.

Lewis is the first to admit that the public may not be quite as psyched as he about the prospect of what he calls “touch-free rest rooms.”

“It’s a challenge,” he says, “because when people think of automation, they think of those early versions of the faucets, when you had to find that sweet spot in front of the sink.”

What’s more, Lewis further acknowledges in the toilet realm there really was a problem with premature evacuation. Or, as the industry prefers to call it, “inadvertent flushing.”

“This goes back to the infrared beams not hitting the right part of a person’s body,” says Lewis. “They were off to the side and they would hit somebody’s arm. 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 if you’re on a brand-new toilet, remember: 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 percent. But the automatic toilets are not automatic to save water. They went high-tech because legions of women used to kick the flushers in a desperate attempt to keep our hands germ-free.

This resulted in a lot of broken toilets. But now, since the automatic toilets don’t have flushers to break, they require less maintenance.

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 do believe I will always have a soft spot for sinks that don’t think. And toilets that aren’t watching my back.

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for the New York Daily News. You can e-mail Lenore at lskenazy@edit.nydailynews.com.

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
High-tech bathrooms can help or hinder