Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
I can still remember the first time I unknowingly encountered a motion-activated bathroom faucet. I just stood there, wondering where the knobs were. I read the little instructional cartoon and, just like the picture suggested, I started flapping my hands under the sink. The water magically started flowing.
As I washed my hands I remember thinking, “Wow, what a ridiculous use of technology. Has it really come to this? It’s not enough that we have clean water coming right from a faucet, which is something that much of the planet doesn’t get to experience, but now we have to have it turn on for us, too? Is this truly progress, or just a way of making us even more lazy and dependent on technology? We used to have to pump water from a well or carry it from the river, and now we don’t even have to turn a knob. I’m embarrassed to be part of this culture.”
Yes, I thought all of that – I tend to wash my hands for a long time. I stood at that sink pondering how much lower we could sink. What’s next?
And of course, what was next was motion activated paper towel dispensers, hot air dryers and toilet flushers – perhaps not in that order. I recall resisting each new advance, decrying it as numbing and frivolous. Really, what’s the big deal about pushing a button so I can turn on the hand dryer? It’s bad enough that we even have hand dryers. Can’t we just dry our hands on our pants like normal people?
• • • •
At 5:30 a.m., I am the only customer in the Eagle airport. This is not an exaggeration – there is not a single other non-employee in the entire building. I walk up to the ticket counter and there are four people behind it. They point me to the self-check-in kiosk. Politely, but still.
I swipe my driver’s license, push all the necessary buttons and soon have my boarding pass in hand. It’s 5:45 by now.
The guy who’s behind me – the second customer in the airport – also gets pointed to a self-check counter. But he’s having a hard time of it. Three of the employees are all guiding him through it.
“OK, now punch in your zip code. OK, now push enter. Enter. Enter! The red button. Enter. Good. Now select …” they all say, more or less in unison. Part of me thinks, come on, just check the guy in behind the counter. Isn’t that your job?
The other part thinks, “Better step it up, Gramps. This is the way we do things now. Get on board or the steamroller of technology will flatten you into the asphalt of progress.” My metaphors are not at their best before sunrise. Also, the guy was hardly a “Gramps.” He was younger than me. Or maybe the same age. He was definitely younger than I felt. Everybody looks younger than you feel at 5:30 a.m.
• • • •
I can still remember the first time I scanned my own groceries, the first time I had to swipe my own credit card, the first time I used an ATM, the first time I changed a TV channel using a remote, the first time I tripped a motion-activated porch light, the first time I checked my cassette tape answering machine message from a pay phone.
I can see the future from here, and it’s swiping, motion-activated funky chicken fest, waving our hands all the live long day in front of the gadgets that help us get along. And I’m OK with that.
• • • •
Last week I was in a public bathroom and I stuck my hands under the sink. Nothing happened. I waved them back and forth, to and fro, individually and together, trying to get some water to flow. Must be broken. I stepped to the right to give that sink a try. Flap, flap, wiggle, wave. Nada. Then I noticed the knob. A knob? You mean I have to turn the knob to get the water to come out?
What are we, savages?
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