Lately I've been noticing a lot of commercials on television that seem to be pushing the auto-everything faucets for the home kitchen and bathroom. I've even seen motion-sensor soap dispensers for sale at Lowes. I think this technology is probably not destined to do well in the home, at least not at first. People in general (and me in particular) aren't inclined to replace faucets that work, so the overall adoption rate on this sort of thing will be slow in coming. Also, replacing a washer is a lot easier than replacing an entire faucet, and these technological wonders have electronics and batteries inside. All that just means there's more stuff to break, and when it does break, it's more costly to fix.
We've had these things in the workplace for years now, and it does make some kind of sense in that environment. It basically idiot-proofs the bathroom against both regular idiots and malicious idiots. The regular idiots are the ones who don't flush, and the malicious idiots are the ones who plug up the sink drain with toilet paper and then turn the faucets on full blast because they think it's fun.
The companies who make these things also mention the sanitation benefits of not having to actually touch the germ-laden surfaces of the bathroom, but most places fall short in providing the total package. Where I work, for instance, they have the auto-flush everything, the auto-water faucet and auto soap, but they make you do the paper towels and open the door to the bathroom manually.
There's always the small percentage of scummers that don't bother to wash their hands, so I make sure I open the exit door with a paper towel. Unfortunately, I never even thought about the paper towel dispensers themselves until I saw a guy do this: He came out of the stall, hit the button on the paper towel dispenser a few times so his fresh paper towel was hanging there, then he washed his hands, tore off the hanging paper towel, dried his hands and left.
Good for him, but bad for the rest of us who have been unwittingly palming the poop-covered button *after* washing our hands. So now I always push the towels first too -- yes, I realize I'm touching someone else's personal strain of e.coli, but I'm also secure in the knowledge that I'll be thoroughly washing it off before it has a chance to migrate up my arm. Sure, you could argue that I'm now part of the problem, and I'd refute that by saying who gives a shit because now it's your problem and not mine. So there you go. Just a little PSA from me to you.
I think they should have everything automated, including the paper towels, and *especially* the door to the stall. You don't even want to think about the amount of invisible crap germs just sitting on that little knob you have to touch in order to lock and unlock the stall door. Just think about the last place your fingers were right before you touched that knob. And don't say your phone or I'll have to kill you.
There are a few drawbacks to the auto-everything model though. As with all technology, sometimes things don't go quite as planned. A few of my favorites include:
The Soap Job -- This happens when you put your hand under the soap dispenser, get a big gob of liquid soap spit into it, and then when you put your hand under the faucet sensor, nothing happens because the piece of shit sensor battery is dead. Not a huge problem if you've got more than one sink and at least one of them is working, but I've been stranded a few times trying to get gooey soap out from under my wedding ring with paper towels that have the consistency of tree bark.
The disappearing seat cover -- This is where you go into a stall, take out a paper seat cover, carefully place it on the seat, turn around to drop trou and just before you sit, the toilet flushes your seat cover so you have no choice but to do the 180-degree pants-down waddle, pull another seat cover out of the holder and try again.
The bad lean --- This is where you're sitting there minding your own business, and as you innocently lean forward to put your elbows on your knees, your upper body gets far enough away from the sensor that the toilet flushes, spraying your exposed ass with cold toilet water of questionable cleanliness. Even worse, sometimes this will happen during the clean up phase, and you'll get hit with water a half-dozen times and finally end up doing a standing wipe just to avoid having toilet water running down the back of your legs.
The flip side of this is that as the technology becomes more prevalent, we get more and more used to it. Take work, for instance. If the place you work has auto-everything, you might find yourself at a friend's house standing stupidly in front of the bathroom sink dry-cupping. In other words, standing there like an idiot waving your cupped hands back and forth underneath what is clearly a regular faucet, waiting for the water to magically appear. (Note: I've done this.)
The other issue is more serious. It's what I like to call the ULB, or unintentional leave-behind. Say you're at a friend's house attending a little dinner party and you've disappeared for a few minutes to drop the kids off at the pool. You finish up, wash your hands, leave the bathroom, and head back to the party before anyone misses you. Then a few minutes into dinner, you realize that you forgot to flush, so you have to pretend to choke on your food and run back to the bathroom to get rid of the evidence before anyone else can get in there. (Note: I've never done this.*)
As for the solution to the first couple of problems, I have another little PSA for you: When you first go into a auto-flush stall, take a small length of TP, say maybe six inches or so, and drape it over the sensor in the back. Problem solved. You're welcome. Just remember to take it off when you leave, to prevent your own ULB. As for the ULB when you're at a friend's house, well, you're on your own there.
Maybe don't get so drunk next time.
*that you know of.