In the last few months, I’ve done some traveling, by auto and plane. I visited friends, experienced new places, and returned to favorite old haunts. Back home again, out and about in Corvallis, Oregon—home to Oregon State University—I found myself reacting with quiet pleasure while washing my hands in a restroom on the OSU campus. Why? Because, while traveling, I was exposed to more than my usual share of public restrooms, and I discovered that the faucets at the Memorial Student Union work exactly the way faucets worked for most of my life: there was a simple handle on either side of the spigot—turn the left handle toward you, you get warm water; turn the right one toward you, you get cold water. Turn both handles and voilà, you get lukewarm water. The more you turn, the greater the flow of water. Turn the handles back, and the flow of water decreases. Turn the handles all the way back, and the water is turned off.
So simple. So elegant. So passé in our thoroughly modern high-tech world.
Standing at a sink in the New Age of Electronic Plumbing, I have no way to decide or determine whether I get hot or cold water. Before I even get to find out whether the water will be hot, cold, or warm, I often have to find the spigot, because some designer from hell has decided to “hide” it. If you walk into a restroom and see a short woman with gray hair waving her hands around in the sink, it’s probably me, desperately hoping to trigger the invisible mechanism that will turn the water “on.” I’m doing the 21st Century equivalent of the Rain Dance, only this one pays homage to the GAG—the GREAT ALMIGHTY GIVER of Faucet Water.
Even when my dance has pleased the GAG and the water is flowing, I never know for how long the water will flow. The GAG giveth, and the GAG taketh away. And the giveth and taketh are all according to the GAG’s own electronic whim. Sometimes there’s a short spurt of water—wait! How am I supposed to get the soap off? Or—wait! I didn’t get any soap yet! Sometimes the water goes off and then on again, depending on whether you’ve got two hands or just one hand under the water. How am I supposed to know what combination the GAG wants? Sometimes I have to maneuver back and forth between invisible spigots because the GAG has timed the water flow to ensure that I continuously get jerked around. Yes, that’s me, dancing to an iGAG tune only the GAG can hear.
Sometimes, miraculously, the water flows until I’m done washing my hands. Thank you, GAG. And sometimes the water keeps flowing long after I’m done. On and on and on it flows, and I have no way to turn it off. This always leads me to wonder if anyone is aware how much energy, water and money is being wasted at this !*!!#*! high-fallutin’ sink.
The old-fashioned faucet was designed and made for adults. It gave us control. The spigot was in plain sight and could not be mistaken for anything else. We determined temperature, water pressure, and the amount of time the water flowed. With a simple physical action, we gave the command that translated to “on” and “off.”
And another thing: repairing the faucet of yesteryear didn’t require a degree in computer science—basic plumbing skills were sufficient.
It’s all about control, people. Studies have shown that the degree of stress we experience is directly linked to the degree of control we have in our day-to-day lives. More control, less stress. Less control, more stress. Weren’t innovations in the way that faucets are designed supposed to make life easier? Save resources? Energy? So why are they messing around with my time and energy, and wasting resources to boot? Why have they taken away my control and given me, instead, more stress?
Please. Don’t even get me started on the paper towel dispensers.