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We are infatuated with automatic functions and devices. They save us both time and effort, they can increase our safety and sometimes they can even aid our health.

As of late, automatic devices have crept into our bathrooms. These devices aid in restroom efficiency and cleanliness by activating upon motion detection. Plus, they’re really fun to use.

Automatic sinks are amazing. Auto soap squirters — really neat. Auto paper towel dispensers — awesome. Auto hand dryers — very cool.

But automatic flushing toilets … not so much.

Keeping things cleaner and easier to use by utilizing hands-free technology is a superb idea, and it works really well for the sinks, soap, towels and dryers, but the toilets just aren’t up to par.

They usually flush so unpredictably and with such gusto that they are quite terrifying. Sometimes the sudden gushing and splashing startles me so severely that I nearly jump into the stall door. Many toilets give a warning before they flush because the sensor clicks or whines, but this isn’t always helpful as it can often sound like a trapped cat.

Besides their frightening factor, automatic flushing toilets never seem to work properly. Trust me. Here’s what happened when I used the bathroom in the Atlanta airport recently:

I walked into the stall, bent over to put the paper protector on the seat, stood back up and started unbuttoning my pants. Then the toilet flushed and pulled off the seat protector. So I reached over again, put a new paper protector on and quickly sat down. I was just sitting, doing my thing, and the toilet flushed.

Seriously? I didn’t even move. Whatever.

Then, I leaned maybe a quarter of an inch forward to grab some toilet paper, and the toilet flushed again. I stood up, started putting myself together, and right on cue, the toilet flushed — except it didn’t take the seat protector down because the end of the paper that was dipped in the water had already been torn away from the previous two flushes.

So I waved my hand in front of the sensor … nothing. Walked forward and backward … nothing. Leaned over the toilet and back … nothing. Sat, stood … nothing.

Finally, I caved in and pressed the button, thereby nullifying any sanitary benefit to the hands-free system.

Five times. The toilet flushed five times! That’s water conservation right there — five flushes for one use.

Though this is a true story, I’ll concede that five is an unusually high number of times to flush. But really, I can’t remember the last time I used an automatic toilet that flushed only once.

And I know I’m not alone.

As they are now, automatic flushing toilets are startling, annoying, finicky and wasteful.

But, expanding the topic of malfunctioning toilets into the wider arena of design, we have a much larger issue at hand than a frustrating restroom experience.

Terry Irwin, the renowned designer and co-founder of the San Francisco office of MetaDesign who recently gave a lecture here at ASU, launched her master’s degree research to answer the following question: “Why do designers design things that are unsustainable, often toxic, sometimes ugly and don’t work very well?”

This is precisely what baffles me about automatic flushing toilets — it seems that frenetically automatic toilets only represent a small portion of our society’s dreadful designs.

Sure, auto flushers may sound like a great idea, but the execution is terrible, thus leaving us a whole step behind where we started.

What else are we designing like this? And how much more setbacks can we take?

As for toilets, I’m in favor of manually depressing a lever to flush, but also to seeking improvements to the toilet that can be made while retaining this function. For example, the toilets in the Lettie F. Coor Hall can either do a half- or full-flush depending on the deposited contents.

However, if we insist on hands-free — or foot-free, as I don’t use my hands to flush anyway — then the flush should be prompted by a weight detecting sensor, or a voice command, or eye scanner. Or something anything else.

Jacqueline would love to a-commode-ate your feelings on the matter.

Send your flushing frustrations to

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