Friday, April 18, 2008

An Automatic World

There is no question that we live in an automatic, electronic, remote controlled world. We have lights that turn on when you clap (or the dog barks, or the cat knocks something off the kitchen counter, or it thunders and the power has not yet gone off), electric toothbrushes because we wouldn't want to burn an extra calories by actually having to move our arms back and worth, and then there is the sacred remote control. At my house a malfunctioning or, worse yet, lost remote control is cause to call the police, or the FBI, and possibly FEMA. Well,, maybe not FEMA; I'm not sure they are capable of much help. Seriously, a lost wallet, or Ipod, or even a diamond ring would garnish less attention. We have become overly dependent on these battery operated hunks of plastic with buttons that control our entire lives. (Dead batteries are also capable of causing intense levels of distress.)

Recently, during one of our terrible spring thunderstorms that knocked out power to thousands of people for nearly 24 hours, a friend was talking about the fact that she almost could not get to work because of the power outage. This inability had nothing to do with not being able to shower, or see to get dressed, or fix a cup of coffee. It was due to the fact that she could not open her garage door because it had an electric opener. Yes, all such garage doors have a release which allows you to open them manually, but she had a small problem. She has not been living at her current address very long. She did find the release, but when she went to manually open the door, she realized that it had no handle - there was nothing to grab on to so that she could indeed open it the good old fashioned way. She later discovered that the lack of a handle was a builder oversight and not a statement about the lack of necessity of a handle.

And we all know someone who has stood in a parking lot either panicked or pissed off because the battery in the key fob that unlocks their car door has died. Because we are so accustomed to our electronic world, they overlook the fact that they are holding in their hand the key that can be inserted in the door lock to open the door. We have gotten ourselves to a rather sad place.

Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of some these gadgets. I like ATM machines for when I have no cash and feel guilty about charging three dollars for a cup of coffee. (I already feel guilty about paying three dollars; I don't need the added guilt of charging it!) I will also admit to liking the TV remote control on those cold winter nights when I can use it to turn of the TV after watching back to back episodes of House Hunters in bed. I hate to get cold just to turn off the TV and I hate even more to disturb the dogs once they are finally asleep. The control that my dogs have over my life is another sad state that is cause for alarm.

There is one automated device that I will never understand - the automatic paper towel dispensers in public restrooms. These things are crazy making.

Several years ago our priest at church encountered these contraptions in an airport. He was so impressed by them that they became a central theme in a Sunday sermon. To this day, I have no idea what the sermon was really about. I can't think of any Scripture reference that comes close to advocating automatic paper towel dispensers. for the masses Because of his enthusiasm for them, automatic towel dispensers were immediately installed in every restroom on our church campus. They are supposed to release paper towels when you wave your hand in front of a certain spot on the dispenser itself. The problem is that the paper towels come rolling out every time someone walks by these things. We even have them in the toddler classrooms, where they are much closer to the ground. In fact, they are about knee high for an average adult. Needless to say, many more towels than are actually needed are spit from the machine because it is triggered every time someone walks by. Not only is this annoying, but it is wasteful. Why can't we just turn the little crank and unwind paper towels in the amount we need when we need them? It seems so simple.

The theory is that these automatic paper towel machines are more sanitary. Nobody has to put their dirty little paws on the machine itself. Cooties will not be spread. How ridiculous is this? Haven't we all just washed our hands? With antibacterial soap? (Those of you who don't wash your hands are responsible for these purging paper towel holders all over the world!) My point is that by the time we reach for a towel to dry our hands they should have been washed, presumably with soap, thus rendering them clean.

If we really want to help alleviate the spread of germs, why don't we install automated toilet tissue dispensers? We all go into restrooms with the germs of the world on our hands. (You know you don't wash your hands before you enter the stall.) We do our business and reach for the tissue. And what about those people who reach for the tissue twice? You know they have not washed their hands and well, you also know where those hands have been. Once we have taken part in this stall scenario, the germ free paper towels are such a non-issue. We have already shaken hands with a whole world of germs. And then there are those paper seat protectors. You have to use your hands to get those out and to actually put them on the seat. No hand washing there either. I think those things must be used only for their placebo affect.

So, if we really want to stop the spread of germs in public restrooms, we need to advocate for automatic toilet paper dispensers. Petition your employer; write to your senator and congressman; perhaps this could even be a topic of discussion for our presidential candidates. Never underestimate the power of a few dedicated people.

I'm off to clean my bathrooms.