It Says "Simple Human" Right on It!
  • Maggie Franklin
  • April 27, 2011

When I bought my trash cans for the salon I had no idea that they would require a genius IQ to operate. I thought it would be worth every penny to invest in the swanky cans with the robotic, self-opening and closing lids. Sure, it also required an additional investment in D-cell batteries and, at the time, I had no idea how long those batteries would last. But I thought that having trash cans that don't require any actual physical contact to operate would be A) cool and B) sanitary.

I have now had my trash cans for a year and a half. The BF can't stand them. Fortunately for him, they live in the salon — and he doesn't. He says he hates "having to throw everything away twice" because, as he sees it, he has to go through the motion of throwing something in the trash once to open the lid and once more to actually throw anything into the can. I think he's trying too hard.

But what I watch, over and over, all day long, day after day, is people who are completely perplexed by the contraption. They break down into these groups:

The people who look at it confused, read the "open" and "close" buttons, and insist on the semi-manual operation of the lid by pushing these buttons.

The people who pay no attention to the buttons or the electronic eye at all and simply pull up on the lid physically — then get irritated with it when it does not close completely when they push it back down.

The people who push the "open" button but not the "close" button — this irritates me because the lid won't close at all that way. Eventually I have to walk over and push the "close" button.

And — my favorite — since most people have been dealing with my futuristic trash can for a year and a half now, they are aware that it is automatic. So they wave their hand over the "eye" as if they were wishing it a bon voyage or trying to get its attention. When the lid fails to respond, they grow impatient with it and wave more frantically until they finally get the motion of their waving into a narrow enough pattern for the electronic sensor to actually tell that there's something in front of it. At which point the person is able to discard her paper towel and usually makes some pithy comment about the "stupid thing" as she takes the final three steps to my table.

Of course, I experience no trouble with my trash can. It seemed easy to figure out when I first encountered one at a friend's house. It has been convenient and user-friendly for the time that I have been using it. I find it completely flabbergasting that its operation has turned out to be such a universal mystery for everyone else.

I keep meaning to put a label on the lid detailing the instructions for use: "Hold hand over sensor. Wait for lid to open. Discard refuse. Lid will close automatically."

But sometimes it's just more fun to watch people wrestle with a trash can.

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