Flushed (or: when smart technology is simply too embarrassing)

Japanese supersonic toilet
Photo: Gryphtor

‘Washlets’ are the brand-name Japanese high-tech toilets. They have a stack of different features including blow dryers, seat heating, massage options, water jet adjustments (heat and pressure), automatic lid opening, automatic fusing, wireless control panels and room heating. My favourite feature is the ‘water flushing sound’ – intended to cover the sound of bodily functions, but could also be used to conceal further shameful activities (crying, watching Steven Seagal movies on your gadget of choice). Future capabilities might include measuring blood sugar in urine, pulse, and blood pressure; and this data could be sent to a doctor instantaneously.

Despite being pretty amazing, both in terms of technology and design, Washlets aren’t in widespread use much beyond Japan. Installation and infrastructure costs obviously play a part, but so do cultural and social norms. Washlets aren’t just neutral smart technologies; they’re ones that deal with an extremely intimate and taboo part of the human experience. Different cultural norms exist around this bodily experience which might be differentially affecting the way that technologies like Washlets are accepted. It’s far easier to use a product which is designed around your own ‘normal’ everyday activities than have to shape both your routines and comfort levels around an intrusive and embarrassing technology, no matter how ‘smart’ it is.

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