Play Lab / Exercise 2: Bathrooms and Technology

Discussing bathroom habits is undoubtedly taboo in our society and despite the frequency and commonality of use, it is something regarded as highly private. We all use the bathroom, yet we prefer not to call too much attention to it. Unfortunately, this avoidance causes us to disregard a very important and very frequented part of our lives, one that would be very healthy to discuss. So I’m going to open up the conversation — because I think there is a lot to be gained in studying and improving our bathroom culture.

Although using the bathroom is considered a private time, there are many things (not including typical bathroom duties) in which we all partake. And although it isn’t publicly talked about, we do have a bathroom culture. This might not initially appear to be the case, but when the organization both of home and public bathrooms is considered, we can see that there are standards — things we consider normal and abnormal.




not quite…

When compared to American, cultural bathroom standards, this seems out of the ordinary. In many other countries, however, this is what would be expected when entering a bathroom. This is to show that there is, in fact, bathroom culture and expectations.

Our bathroom culture has become increasingly more digital and technologically advanced. For years, people have used appliance such as hair driers, straightening irons, razors, etc. In more recent years, however, we have witnessed essential bathroom equipment become appliances. It began with push-button hand driers, which soon became motion activated hand driers. Mechanical soap dispensers and faucets both became touch-free. Soon enough, toilets themselves, not without the occasional misjudgment, knew when to flush. Recently, so locations, such is my school, have become privy to new, automatic toilet paper dispensers. Yep. There is now a machine that will deliver toiler paper right into my hand without me needing to do any work. Technology has invaded the bathroom infrastructure and the theme seems to be hands-free.

But what about the technology we bring into the bathroom?

We’re all used to seeing this:

But that has turned into this:

And in spite of what the cited article above says, many of us bring our cell phones into the bathroom with us. Unusual? Not really. The more important cell phone are becoming in our daily functions, the more they will become part of other daily functions. And, considering the inappropriateness of using a phone during class or at work, the bathroom often serves both as a break and as a texting stop.

Not only are we using them to entertain ourselves or send a quick text while we’re sitting on the john, but they are also used in the more public areas of the bathroom.

For selfies.

Many of us do some or all of these things. I have, and admittedly still do.

So why aren’t bathrooms designed to better accommodate this new trend? What kind of impact would doing so have on our bathroom culture? What would happen if cell phone use on the toilet (I know it sounds funny) were embraced?

Some developments such as chargers located in stalls, much like the integration of outlets into lobby furniture, might appear. Perhaps designated locations to place a cell phone down so it doesn’t need to touch any of the germy surfaces could be designed. What if this was designed so that cell phone use in the bathroom could be hands-free?

Potential Side Effects

Designing bathrooms for better cell phone use could lead to a lot of unintended consequences.

Making it more comfortable for people to browse while in the stall might lead to more time spent in the stall. Imagine this when there is a long line for the bathroom or a housemate who is waiting to use the shower!

Perhaps would become more acceptable to take calls or video conference while in the bathroom.

Would bathrooms begin being used specifically for charging purposes? What if you could rent out a stall to spend more time there?

Would disease spread more easily from multiple people using a docking charging station? Would it be easier for these diseases to make it out of the bathroom due to the cell phones making it out into the wider world. Is there a way to combat this?

If public places accept that people use their phones while in the bathroom, perhaps articles would start appearing on the doors as suggested reading. Would these soon turn into advertisements? Would both of these lead to prolonging bathroom use?

The bathroom could turn into a destination for cell phone use when one needs a break from work or school, as it is already frequently used?

Contributing Side Shows

There are many other technologies and habits that could contribute to a more tech friendly and tech integrated bathroom.

How could smart mirrors play into the bathroom experience? Could it display reminders to take a certain medication or to brush your teeth?

Is there anything to be gained from the current fitbit trend or calorie counting, etc.?

How could the cell phone become part of the bathroom routine from a health and wellness perspective? Would it make sense to keep track of bathroom habits?

Would the phone be smart enough to know when you entered the bathroom (bluetooth, beacons) and could this lead to presenting health information, suggest reading or apps for entertainment?

What about the advent of a smart toilet that can give you information about your health? Or a smart shower that tells you about your water consumption? Could this information be sent to the cell phone?

Would the bathroom turn into a health hub?

How would this make us feel about our health? If we are our own doctors would we take better care of ourselves?