Pottytech: Pimped-Out Commodes

In the Hutong
Waiting for Sundown
1438 hrs.

While I try to avoid topics of prurient interest, from time to time a topic comes along that begs to be addressed, if for no other reason than nobody else is watching.

During my recent soujourns in Japan, I was treated to many of that country’s interesting cultural delights, including singing ice cream servers at Coldstone Creamery, the world’s finest convenience stores, and the perpetual bowing. But the one that vexed me the most was Japan’s love of the mechanized commode.

Now, if you’re like me, there is something a little strange about Japanese potties – the little buttons and switches mystify me, and when I hear a series of mechanical noises upon seating myself, I always feel like I should be wearing a G-suit and a crash helmet. It’s a little bit freaky, and I tend not to linger over my normal reading material, choosing instead to conclude operations quickly and move along. I’m sure I’d get used to it after a while, but I guess the insight I take away is that in some parts of my life, I’m still a bit of a luddite.

(I say “a bit” because there are a few technological advances I prefer, including working plumbing, and a seat as opposed to a porcelain bombing target in the floor.)

So when a friend forwarded a link to a story out of Atlanta about a national plumbing products comany trying to “get hip” to Generation Y by giving away a “home entertainment toilet,” I immediately took issue.

Quite apart from the potential circulatory, orthopedic, and familial-harmony issues arising from spending long periods of time on a standard-issue commode, in my opinion this is an inappropriate use of technology and is poorly thought-out marketing. On the marketing side, a plumbing products company has no fear of losing market-share or mind-share to a substitutable product – why worry about being hip when, after all, you have a captive audience. Is there some sort of trend back in the U.S. that kids are giving up on commode use for some other means of waste disposal? I kind of doubt it.

So no points to the insecure executives in the toilet industry.

As far as the technology, frankly, technology is the answer when it elegantly solves a problem, or it makes a difficult process simpler. On that score, the Japanese are light-years ahead: electronically warmed seats that are comfy to sit on are a wonderful thing, and the remarkable way they integrate the bidet function into the commode is a much smarter use of technology, despite my own heebie-jeebies about using it.

If you’re like me, entertainment in the loo is not the challenge. There are other problems that demand a superior technology solution. One example that jumps readily to mind is the pathetic state of bathroom fans, especially here in China. When someone can use technology to come up with an inexpensive air circulation solution with the sucking power of a small turbojet, he or she will have done a true service.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
This entry was posted in Innovation. Bookmark the permalink.