Nostalgia for a Bit of Low Tech

01 Aug Nostalgia for a Bit of Low Tech

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 1.8.22


Bad manners, and a bit lazy. Not you, obviously, I’m talking about the others. These are the two human behaviours at the root of our most annoying technological advances.

Exhibit A: the toilet that flushes automatically. At some point, so many people failed to flush the toilet in public restrooms that someone was driven to think, “Ok, sigh, we’ll do it for them.” The unintended consequence being the toilet can think you are done while you’re still sitting there (possibly contemplating a modern lack of manners) interrupting your reverie with a splash of cold toilet water up your back. Thanks everyone who couldn’t be bothered pressing the flush button themselves, I am having a great day.

Outside the cubicle, because some monster (many monsters) left the hot tap running over the hand basin, we are now limited to ice cold water delivered in automatically measured inadequate bursts. Don’t start me on automated hand dryers designed solely on the theory that water can be scared off your skin by a lot of noise.

We now live in world where we can’t trust each other to turn off taps. Or lights, or heating. I’m not sure what started this – are we too busy? Forgetful? Entitled and wasteful? Wherever it began, it leads us down a road, possibly in a self-driving car, where we will unlearn the habits of doing these things for ourselves.

Either that, or we’ll go all retro and embrace low tech again. I am already fantasising about a return to old-school hotels with a bilious old grump on reception – possibly with a yappy small dog in tow – half-heartedly handing over an actual key on a keyring for your door which you access via a lift that does not talk to you.

Don’t get me wrong – I like a “smart hotel”. You can download an app to your phone and turn your heating on before you head back to your room, and lie in bed to fiddle with the lighting without searching the walls for switches.

I mention this because I once stayed in a West Coast motel where I spent two days trying to work out how to turn off the hall light. Tracked the switch down eventually – it was tucked behind the fridge in the kitchen. Got to love a DIY sparky.

Step out of bed in the wee small hours in a “smart hotel” and a floor light is activated. Slightly freaky if you’ve just woken from a dream about monsters under the bed with torches, but terrific if you’re the kind of person who aims for the bathroom in the dark but inevitably finds themselves naked in the hotel corridor as your door locks behind you.

“Smart” features are sold not only on convenience but on doing the right thing by the planet since we obviously can’t be trusted to do this ourselves. On the upside, if you forget to turn the lights off when you leave, the room will do it for it.

On the downside, this feature is motion-activated and I’ve discovered I am a fairly still person. I’ll be reading in bed and suddenly all the lights go out. To counteract this, I have now developed a habit of regularly waving my arms about to keep the lights on, even now I’m at home. This is an improvement on the behaviour initially adopted when I’d assumed it was sound that activated the lights, which had encouraged me to regularly give myself a round of applause.