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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Technology makes you feel stupid

My mother has said on a number of occasions something to the effect of how stupid technology makes her feel. I can certainly understand why she might say that, given how much she struggles on a daily basis using her cellphone, laptop and television.

As someone who grew up with this technology, it’s virtually intuitive for me to use it. I can pick up an unfamiliar cellular phone or other electronic device and literally within seconds I will already have mastered its basic operation. It frustrates me that she, and people of her generation, struggle so much to use these “simple” things.

But there is one piece of technology that allows me to relate to her. A machine that makes me feel stupid: restroom paper towel dispensers. It’s a device I have yet to master. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!

I know that as far as hygiene is concerned, the paper towel is the best option for drying one’s hands. Cloth towels are breeding grounds for bacteria, and the hot-air blowers only serve to warm up an already moist area, thus turning it into a bacterial cesspool as well. A paper towel is dry, and is immediately discarded, thus eliminating all the nasties.

However, that is subject to the efficient use of the paper towel dispenser.

The more sophisticated ones are fine… the ones where you just wave your hand in front of it, and it spits a towel out. Brilliant. The ones I battle with are the ones when you actually have to pull the towel out.

It’s good in theory. If you pull the towel gently, the mechanism feeds a certain amount of towel from the roll, then usually automatically cuts it into a conveniently sized towelette: wipe and dispose, repeat if necessary.

What I can’t seem to get right is when I wash my hands with soap and water, they end up being pretty wet… hence the need to dry them. When I use my wet hands to pull on the dry towel, the towel soaks up the water from my hands and turns into grey mush. Grey mush isn’t very good for pulling on, as it tends to disintegrate. Thus, all the paper I can reach is turned into mush before I can pull any more of it off the roll.

Fortunately, most of these devices are fitted with a sort of manual override… a knob in the side that you can turn in order to force it to spew out more paper. Brilliant. Except for the fact that everyone else has obviously had to use the same manual override… it’s already wet, and had probably been wet all day. What do you have when you have some stagnant wetness? Bacterial growth. One touch of that knob, and I’m suddenly carrying more nasties than I was before I washed my hands!

Can someone please tell me the secret of the restroom paper towel dispenser? I try to follow the little pictures on the front of it, but I’m clearly missing something. What am I doing wrong!?!?