9/09/2010

When I am King: Dry, Dry Again

When I am King...

Drying hands in the bathroom will return to traditional methods.

There's a growing trend in society, and in American bathrooms in particular, to stop using tried and proven mechanical devices when there are electronic ones available instead. In the home, this results in magnificent effort-savers like battery-operated pepper grinders (which are nothing to sneeze at). In the workplace bathroom, the result is sensor-driven devices for the toilet, the sink, and the paper towels.

I've written previously about these ridiculous devices, but today I want to come down harshly on the towel dispenser. I'll use, for my case study, an office bathroom with which I'm intimately familiar, having frequented it often in the past few months. Originally, there were two manual towel dispensers. These were complicated mechanisms that involved reaching under the dispenser and grabbing the dangling paper towel. When one didn't do it, you'd grab a second.

One of these machines was replaced recently by an electronic version of the same thing. This machine is roughly twice the size and has a little red light on it like a Cylon device (I'm never sure whether it's going to dry my hands or exterminate my species). Again, the towel hangs below the machine and you rip it off to get a second one delivered. From the user's point of view, there's no effort savings; on both you have to grab the towel. In fact, the electronic device requires more effort because you have that extra rip to perform, which can be difficult for your average technology worker. Also, you have to wait for the second towel because the machine has to think about it for a few seconds first, scanning you with its Cylon eye to deem your worthiness and consider its extermination options.

But here's the catch: the electronic one is often out of order. Either it runs out of power (it turns out that batteries don't last as long as, say, no batteries), or it runs out of towels, or it runs out of patience. I don't know. I just know that about half the time I go to get a towel, it refuses to spew one forth and I'm relegated to getting one from the older dispenser, which just keeps chugging along.

So here's this machine that obviously cost more to purchase and install, costs more to maintain as it runs through a Prius-load of batteries every month, takes up more space, and takes more time to get towels (when it's working) and to not get towels (when it's broken). And half the time it doesn't even work.

I understand technological advances. Why, if it weren't for my battery-powered pepper grinder, I'd probably have to go without that spice or eat the cloves whole rather than suffer that extreme wrist-twisting exercise. But I don't see why we're replacing perfectly workable devices for electronic versions which cost more and work less.

When I am King, we'll go back to traditional means of drying our hands. On our jeans.
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