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You may find this month’s column strange given that I’m a writer with several books and numerous articles under my belt, and that I practice intellectual-property law – encouraging others to be creative. But, the fact remains, the world would be a better place had some of the inventions that plague our daily lives never been invented.
It is hard to say what is the absolute worst invention of modern times, so I’ll claim a three-way tie: the hot-air hand teasers in public restrooms, plastic grocery bags and auto-answering systems that insist I “talk” to a machine.
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Hot-air hand teasers. Call them what you will; redesign them so you stick your hands down in slots; do whatever you like. My hands never get dry. No matter how many times I think, “This time it’ll work and I won’t have to dry my hands on my pants,” they only tease me. I don’t even try them anymore. If it’s a fast-food place like Wendy’s, I go out and grab napkins. If that’s not available, living in dry Colorado, I just let nature dry them. It’s less frustrating, and I don’t hear the chuckle of the machine as it whispers to its neighbor, “We got another one to stand and look silly while we didn’t dry his hands.”
I understand the theory. The teasers eliminate resources used to make towels and to dispose of them. But, what resources does it take to make the teasers and to power them? Maybe fewer germs – although after I’ve washed my hands with soap and hot water, there should be no germs on the discarded paper towel I use.
Plastic grocery bags. Does anyone, other than the people making money from selling them, like them? They don’t hold much. They flop all over the place when they have things in them. They proliferate in the closet more than rabbits in a hutch. I use reusable bags unless I forget to get them out of the car. I always use self-checkout in groceries that have them. Even if I bring my own bags, I find the baggers insist on putting something in a plastic bag. “You don’t want your vegetables in the same bag with your plastic wrapped bread!” I know they get paid based upon the number of plastic bags they use. If you don’t watch them closely, they’ll put a gallon jug of milk – with its own handle – in two plastic bags. Money can be the only reason.
Auto-answering systems that want me to “talk.” I simply will not do it. A computer tells me, “Please state the reason for your call.” No. I will not. I will push “0” or “#” until I get a real person. I will scream “No, I will not talk to you.” To which the machine will respond, “I did not understand your response, please state the reason for your call.” I will cancel my account with you. I will cease doing business with you. But I will not talk to a machine. I have my limits. So, if you are thinking about buying such a system, realize you won’t be doing business with me. If it is a company that I absolutely want to do business with, first I go to gethuman.com. That website will tell you what buttons to push on your phone to avoid automatic-answering systems and get to a real human being.
Marketing genius. I must admit that those who sold hot-air hand teasers, plastic bags and auto-answering systems were geniuses. No one who used them for any period of time would have inflicted them on others. Even so, the greatest marketing genius is the person who figured out how to market the touchless hand-soap dispenser. The television tells us that if we’ll put one in our bathroom and have our children wave their hands near it, it will dispense soap for them and limit the spread of those dreadful germs that live on the pump handle of regular soap dispensers. But, after we deposit our germs and pick up others’ germs from those nasty regular soap dispensers, don’t we use their product to wash our hands and, presumably, kill those germs? I’ve never seen anyone dispense soap then do anything with a germ-covered hand except wash it.
And people buy them. What will the future hold in our brave new world where we no longer are reined in by the strictures of the Mayan calendar?
Alan F. Blakley is a lawyer with CR MILES PC in Fort Collins. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.