The hand dryer said fifteen. The numerals flashed in blue and counted down to zero while the hot blasts of air desiccated my hands. I moved them up and down as instructed to make the drying process more effective. There was a handy pictorial guide. Why was there a counter? Can I not work it out for myself when my hands are dry? Who decided that fifteen seconds was long enough for it to have done its job? Is there a formula to work it out involving their surface area, the relative atmospheric humidity, the ability of the skin type to retain moisture and the amount of manual agitation? I doubt it.
I imagine that someone tried it out and found out that hands in ‘normal’ conditions became dry in about ten seconds and so add they added five just in case and came up with the number fifteen. After this time the dryer stops. If you want it to start again you put your hands back in. If you want it to stop then you take your hands out. I don’t need the counter to tell me that after half a dozen seconds I’m going to pull my hands out and dry them on the back of my trousers anyway. I can work this out for myself.
It’s a bad case of solutionism as Evgeny Morozov puts it. Actually it is a good example of a bad practice. Solutionism is the belief that all difficulties have benign solutions, often of a technical nature. Solutionism has resulted in the solving of problems that don’t exist.
I get it that my hands will need to be in the drier for it to work. I get it that it will need to switch off so as not to overheat or waste electricity. I get it that different hands are going to need different lengths of time to dry. I just don’t need a counter to tell me so.
Solutionism is nannyism (made up word!) gone mad. It is an attempt to remove all thinking from the human condition. Machines will tell us how to live, when to get up, when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear, when to walk more, when to concentrate and when to take our hands out of the drier. They will monitor every moment, check our every breath and judge our every action.
No doubt someone is working on an emotion app (an emotiapp?) which will prompt us when to laugh at a joke, cry at a sad moment and to show empathy in appropriate situations.
Now, I’m all for technology that helps, technology that solves problems that do exist, technology that allows us to achieve things that we couldn’t do before and technology that puts quality into the repetitive and mundane tasks. I hope though that we don’t go too far and rely upon machines to interfere in all aspects of human interaction, especially if it is with another person.
Vending machines don’t need to say hello to us. Buses out of service don’t need to apologise and hand driers don’t need to remind us that our hands are dry.