Friday, October 13, 2006

The toilet is judging me

I know that title sounds paranoid (or possibly insane) but I swear it's true! As some background, this is another story of arbitrarily enforced workplace rules gone astray. No matter how well-intentioned, the problem with arbitrary rules is their inflexibility. At some point, a circumstance will occur that results in an unintended negative consequence of the rule but because the rule is arbitrary there is no ability to make concessions.

In this case, the arbitrary rule revolves around my workplace's gung-ho attitude toward being as "green" as possible. I've detailed some of these policies in the past (using rainwater, massive recycling programme) but this is a new one. The toilets have motion sensors that automatically shut off the lights if they detect no motion after a set period of time (it seems to be set at about ten minutes.)

This would obviously not be something you'd even notice in a highly trafficked toilet. Not an issue for Alan Jones in other words. But I've recently moved desks to a half-empty section and as a result, the nearby toilet doesn't see a lot of business. Often when I go into this toilet the lights are off and they switch on as I enter and trigger the motion detector. Noticing this had prompted me to wonder how long it took them to switch off. One day I found out.

It was a weird experience because, not surprisingly, the toilet is windowless so when the lights went out I was plunged into pitch darkness without warning. And I soon discovered the motion sensor wasn't point to the cubicle because I stood up and waved my arms around all to no avail. I won't go into detail of my status in the cubicle to avoid grossing anyone out. OK, a little detail: I wasn't even taking a crap, I was pretty much hiding in there - taking a break and playing games on my mobile phone.

So, possibly, the sensor was right to give me a "hey you, get out of here," message. It did strike me at this point that being caught out this way if you were suffering from either extreme end of the ablutions spectrum (diarrhea or constipation) would be a pretty awful and possibly embarrassing experience. Awful for the obvious reasons and embarrassing if someone came in, the lights switched on then they saw someone was actually in the cubicle. In the dark. Who knows what they would think?

And so I'm going to be stuck with this arbitrary rule because this is hardly the sort of setting you could question. How would you do that? Calling the amenities people and saying you think the timer setting is too short would go something like this:

Me: The auto timer in the toilets is set to switch the lights off too soon.

Amenities Person: How do you know?

Me: Ummmm...

AP: It's set for ten minutes, did it switch off when you were in there?

Me: Well...

AP: How often would that happen to someone?

Me: I dialled the wrong number, I meant to report a computer fault. Bye!

I've avoided it up to now but I have to say it: this light timer gives me the shits.

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