When I was in 9th grade, we did a science experiment where we took a swab of any area of the school we wanted and grew bacteria cultures. It was an opportunity to let the forensic juices flow and attempt to expose the most unassuming germ factory. We were told not to swab the toilets, an obvious bacteria festival, but my curious mind couldn't help but ponder the ritual of hand-washing, and its effectiveness. The reason being, we typically turn on the tap (with our germ covered mitts), wash our hands, and turn off the tap (with our clean mitts, touching the dirty faucet). Herein lay the inconsistency. However, this was the 90’s, before automatic sensors were the norm. Today, my experiment would be irrelevant. Considering I grew up with manual faucets, toilets with handles, and car jack style paper towel dispensers, I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve adapted to our current bathroom luxuries. More than once, I’ve nearly walked out of a stall, registering the silence, and recognized that the toilet wasn’t flushing on its own. “Have I really become so entitled?” I would ask myself as I flush it with my foot. Have I really come to expect nothing less than subservient machines making my toilet going as easy as a no touch car wash? The truth is, yes. But not because I need it, or even care that much, but because I’m a highly adaptable human being. It never particularly bothered me, having to flush the toilet, turn on the tap, nor pump my own soap. It was a routine I did, if not joyously, at least neutrally; usually preoccupied with other past or future events.
I didn’t think much of the germs despite my ninth grade experiment. I hadn’t known anyone to die after using a public restroom, and was pretty sure the stress of avoiding all possible foreign antibodies would be much more detrimental to my health than a little critter hanging out on my hands for a while. So it’s funny, then, that I feel totally programmed to expect automation. It would seem that it has more to do with convenience with health. I have no idea why it’s become the standard. Did people complain about having to flush their own toilet? Is it better for the plumbing? Surely it doesn’t conserve water usage. Can you say premature flushes? Perhaps the fact that the faucets only work half the time, or only work when you find the sweet spot, often left untapped by exasperated potty goers, is what makes up for all the flushing action. My favorite image is watching someone wave frantically in front of the faucet, only to realize it’s not automatic. That’s classic.
But in all seriousness, I bet some children know nothing else. What will happen to these poor ignorant souls when they travel overseas? They shalt leave toilets unflushed and with hands unwashed. It’s a dirty thought, but a serious one. Well, not that serious. I suppose metaphorically it’s interesting to think about what happens to our brain processing when we stop having to do things for ourselves and rarely have to figure out how things work. For now, it’s bathrooms. Next it will be kitchens, then cars. Soon, we won’t even need to think about how to work our bodies because they’ll run themselves. Have a nice ride!