Monday, August 22, 2011

On Hand Drying

I'm not sure when the hygienic ritual of hand-washing after using the bathroom started, although I believe it is outlined in Leviticus somewhere. Unfortunately for God's Chosen People and all subsequent generations, Moses did not specify proper drying techniques while outlining the procedures for purifying one's self after a bowel movement, and the result has been the erratic and counter-productive evolution of the hand drying industry. Truly, no aspect of everyday life is as much of a testament to the coming Idiocracy than paper towel dispensing.

Back in olden times, paper towels were dispensed via a stainless steel box attached to the wall with a sloped slot at the bottom. The box was filled with paper towels that were folded in such a way that one would come out through the sloped slot at a time, providing the user with a hands free dispensing system. If one's hands were still wet after using a paper towel, one simply grabbed another. To reload the dispenser, one just put more towels on top of the existing towels, or dropped a new set in and pulled the first one out to get the set started. This system is known as the "tri-fold" and it is no longer used anywhere except for that church your mom goes to that hasn't been remodeled since 1971.

Then, one day, a man thought, "My hands are still wet even though I already used a paper towel," became outraged, and rather than simply getting another paper towel, devised a new system to dispense however much paper towelage one requires. I'm not sure on this, because I wasn't there, but I believe his system used a roll of towels instead of individual towels folded over each other and employed a crank to dispense them. Now a person needed to expend manual labor to crank out as much towel before tearing off the towel on the jagged edge. Reloading became slightly more difficult, as the roller apparatus needed to be disassembled to fit a new roll in and the towel needed to be loaded so it would unroll a certain way and needed to be fed through the dispenser or else it would jam, resulting in no towels for anyone.

This system eventually would be replaced after a cranky teacher aide for the second graders complained about all the paper towels the boys wasted in the bathroom and devised a new dispenser, the lever. To work the lever, one simply pulls a lever down on the front of the dispenser, similar to the lever on a toaster, and a paper towel is dispensed so the user can tear it off. This allowed the teacher aide to tell the boys they couldn't get more than two lengths, and allowed the 2nd graders to hold the paper towel in the dispenser and pump the lever until it jammed, then pulled out a huge length of paper towels that was scrunched up like an accordion, much to the dismay of the T.A. Also, with even more internal moving parts, the possibility for something to break or go wrong was increased again.

It wasn't until The Wussiest Generation took power that a new revolution would come in paper towel dispensing. The Wussiest Generation, seeing the potential for germs to spread on the handle of the paper towel dispenser that had just been touched by people who had, uh, just washed their hands, devised bold, new designs that would allow the paper to be dispensed automatically so that all the person had to do was pull down. These designs always failed miserably, and the towel jamming in the dispenser was so common that all of them had troubleshooting guides to tell you exactly how to unjam it, usually involving a complicated system of buttons and wheels that needed to be pressed and turned. Still, a small price to pay to stop the spread of cholera.

Then, one day, the finishing touch was applied to paper towel dispensing when a brave corporate drone realized that while we had succeeded in making paper towel dispensers less hygienic, more likely to break, and less convenient in the past few decades, we as of yet had not found a way to make them waste electricity. And so, the motion detector was added to the paper towel dispenser, opening up the possibility of dead batteries, motion sensing errors, and undetectable jams to all of the other problems created. Still, a hard fought victory was won, and the people now had a paper towel dispensing system that did not require them touching anything that someone else had touched, required no work on the part of the user, and dispensed a set amount of paper towel to reduce waste. Just like the tri-fold dispenser at your mom's church, only dumber, more wasteful, and much more likely to break.

4 comments:

Nadine said...

HA! My pet peeve is the ladies (because clearly, I cannot speak to the behavior of the men folk) that selfishly crank out their desired length of paper towel after using the toilet but BEFORE washing their hands, thus contaminating the crank handle for the ladies using the device after them. If everyone would wash (with soap) prior to use, the damn thing would be clean.

Much like if every lady would actually sit on the toilet seat during use, there would never be a need to "hover" which then starts the domino effect of requiring future users to hover.

I'm just saying.

liz said...

Bwahahahaha! So very true.

Andy said...

When I worked at Shell, I was always mystified by the prevalence of urine on the seats in the women's restroom. It truly seemed like that should be an anatomical impossibility to me.

In fact, as a general rule, the less I think about people's restroom hygiene, the happier I am.

kathy a. said...

there was a time when proper ladies did not sit upon the seat, because it might have cooties, so it was much better for them to spray for the next customer. i only wish i didn't have personal knowledge.

trifold paper towels are definitely the best.

my verification -- not making this up! -- is drifying.