Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trounced by technology

Carolyn J. Rose    

Don’t get me wrong. I think technology is a good thing. I don’t miss rotary dial phones, cars without power-assist steering, manual typewriters, or black-and-white TV screens the size of cake pans that offered only fuzzy pictures.

But I worry that we’ve become too dependent on slick, fast, and easy. I worry when I come across kids who can’t tell time on a clock and have to check their phones for a digital readout. I worry these same kids aren’t developing skills that could come in handy during a power outage or in the wake of a fire or hurricane. And I worry that all of us are being put in a position where there are no back-up options, where we can be held hostage by technology that should work, but doesn’t.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s visit a restroom in a modern movie theater or restaurant or airport, a restroom where technology has been harnessed in the interests of sanitation and public health.

We find toilets that sense when you’ve completed your mission and flush themselves automatically.

Except when they don’t.

Then you face the choice of scurrying away—in a nonchalant manner, of course—or hunting for that tiny button on the wall or somewhere at the rear of the toilet. Pushing that button defeats the purpose of the auto-flush feature by exposing you to germs the feature was designed to protect you from.

And then there’s the sink and all that goes with it—the soap, water, paper towels, or hot-air hand-drying apparatus.

Now, I don’t miss those continuous rolls of linen towel that always seemed to be at the end. I don’t miss struggling to pump soap from a nearly empty well, or grappling with a faucet someone put too much force into turning off. And I don’t miss using my fingernails to try to loosen a paper towel jam, or slamming a blower knob with my hand to get it to work.

But sometimes I wish I had those options.

Recently, in an attempt to wash up, I was trounced by technology. Lulled into a false sense of security by my ability to extract soap from a wall-mounted fixture, I attempted to bring water forth by tripping the beam at the base of the faucet. I had no luck. But in the process of moving my hands and arms about, I managed to trigger the paper towel machine on the left and was gifted with two inches of brown towel.

I moved to the second sink and tried again to coax out a stream of water. No luck. But I accidentally got an inch of paper towel from the machine on my right. Back at the left-hand sink, the faucet finally coughed out an anemic stream of water. But neither towel machine would deliver even half an inch more than I’d been presented with by accident.

In disgust, I dried my hands on my shirt. As the door closed behind me, I swear I heard the paper towel dispenser and faucet laughing. Not only that, they were taunting the soap for giving in to my demands so easily.