I heard a story on NPR on “smart elevators” last year. The premise is simple: instead of getting into an elevator and then selecting your floor, you first select your floor and are then directed to the elevator that will get you to your floor the fastest. There was a quote from a business executive used to riding in smart elevators about how dysfunctional he is when he steps into a normal elevator: he forgets to press the button for his desired floor and instead just stands there, sometimes riding for awhile before he remembers that he needs to take action. I remember very clearly thinking what an idiot this guy must be to forget how to operate something so simple as an elevator.
And then, the other day, I was out somewhere and had just used the bathroom. I soaped up my hands at the sink and then waved my hands under the faucet several times, waiting for the water to turn on. You see, at work we have motion-activated water faucets. I’ve become so accustomed to the automatic faucets that I was complete unable to operate a simple sink lever. Eventually I realized what an idiot I was, and turned the lever manually to activate the water so that I could wash my hands. I then stood there staring at the sink, wondering why the water didn’t shut off. Finally I remembered that I needed to operate the lever to stop the water.
I always find it funny when a restroom has an automated sink, but a manual towel dispenser. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes there’s an automatic soap dispenser while everything else is manual! Either way, all the sanitary savings of the one are completely offset by the other(s). And it’s all moot because invariably the trashcan is overflowing with soppy wet paper towels because no one bothers to actually get the towels into the trashcan (and why do men feel compelled to use ten sheets of paper towels just to dry their hands?!). Or, just as often, the trash isn’t emptied with any regularity. I’ve complained about toilets before, though, so there’s no need to belabor that issue.
I’m all for automation, and intelligently using technology to make our lives simpler. It’s important to remember, though, that technology adoption doesn’t occur uniformly across the world. So don’t forget how to use a faucet or an elevator, or you’ll look like an idiot like me!