Alright, I’m calling it – the machines have won. The unraveling of Western Civilization has begun. And it didn’t take Skynet with its implacable Austrian cyborgs from the future to bring our demise, or even self-driving cars for that matter. Nope, our end has come quietly, on the mechanized hum of a toilet paper dispenser.
Don’t get me wrong – technology can be a wonderful thing. Contact lenses can now monitor a person’s blood sugar levels. Drones will soon deliver my Amazon purchases right to my door. I can peek into my fridge from my smartphone (though I can’t for the life of me figure out why I would want to). Yet for every yin, there is a yang. In this case, it is facial recognition capabilities that have run amuck. Trumpeted as a tool of law enforcement meant to help catch bad guys, bean-counters have already found a way to turn it against us. A firm in China (not surprisingly) has come up with a machine that uses the technology to dole out toilet paper in public restrooms. You stand in front of the dispenser and look into a screen for three seconds in order to receive your ration of bum-wipe – all 27 inches of it. If you’re a ‘square-counter,’ that’s a little less than seven sections.
It has come to this – the measure of humanity has been reduced to 27 inches of starched bathroom ‘tissue’ with the consistency of 80-grit sandpaper. And the machines will show no mercy, even when we might be at our most vulnerable. Once you’ve presented yourself and been issued the allotted amount – meager though it may be – the dispenser knows who you are and will lock you out, shutting down any further attempts to procure additional toilet paper. So if it’s an emergency, you’ll need to recruit a cadre of friends, co-workers, even passers-by to parade past the viewer in order to keep the supply coming. And if it’s spitting out that gossamer one-ply stuff that disintegrates when you so much as look at it, well, you should probably be prepared to sacrifice an article or two of clothing.
They claim this was instituted as a money-saving measure. That the tried and true ‘honor system’ was no longer working, that people were stealing toilet paper as the pandemic turned it into a precious commodity. So now the machines, these collections of circuitry and gears that never contracted the flu or ate bad Mexican food or were caught unawares by a rouge shart, have become the arbiters of hygiene. Look, all living things share a certain commonality, embodied by the phrase “I poop, therefore I am.” Wiping, however, is what separates us from the animals (except, of course, for dogs, who insist on butt-dragging on the Persian rug). And what separates us from the machines is knowing when the paperwork is truly done.
We may not be able to avoid technology entirely, but all the same, from now on I plan to hold it until I get home. Shart or no…