The Automatic Toilet: Not A Cryptic Title This Time [15/9/09]

The other day it was my mixed fortune to visit an automatic toilet. Perhaps that is not the best way to describe it – the central physical human function not being rendered easier or in any way done for you by the machine – but that is what the manufacturer calls the device and what the local council calls it. North Sydney council’s website refers to audio-visual instructions at this facility, but what that means is very loud sound cues and signs everywhere and everything operated by button. So many buttons.

Under the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the north side at Milsons Point is a small building influenced by the worst excesses of Japanese high-tech impersonal cutesiness and the sort of ambience one might expect from the cheap nightclub on a cruise liner after Happy Hour has ended. From a distance it looks like a small, dirty, chrome bus shelter. Once inside you aren’t thinking that one of the great views in the world is just beyond those walls and across the park, where ferries slide from one side of the city to the other. You just want out.

When the user is seated an American voice announces in strident yet friendly tones that you have ten minutes and then the door will unlock and open. The user knows the door is locked as he has just pressed a button to lock it and a comforting little light has come on near the word ‘locked’. The voice is unsettling. The first tune on the playlist when I attended this venue – yes, there’s a playlist – was an instrumental, muzak version of “What The World Needs Now Is Love”. All the aural entertainment was supplied with a healthy dollop of decibels. It occurred to me that this song might be the perfect accompaniment for a couple who has decided they can’t hold on any more and the vigorous exercise on their minds could be over in under ten minutes.

Then the music stopped and the voice returned. The sensor hadn’t detected movement in some regulation time and so the unit would disengage it’s locking system if no movement was evident kinda nowish. I moved my torso around a bit an bobbed my head and the American voice told me that I was indeed in there, that I was a person inside a futuristic lavatorial nightmare, which I think I already knew. It occurred to me that the couple with amorous designs on each other and one eye on the stop watch probably wouldn’t be told by the voice that they weren’t there. They’d be fine. More than enough to detect.

And then the finish. Soap and water and dryer for hands are all regulated by sensors. You get a huge amount of soap and walk out with wet hands. But you’re glad to be out as it is preferable to in.

If this is the future, I’m not interested.

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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