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« Save The Boys Too | Main | The Obama-Mandate Kerfuffle (Andrew) »

February 05, 2008


Nope, not me. Someone on the forums raises the interesting question of lighting at night. Wouldn't everything inside be visible if it is lit at night with darkness around the booth?

At the risk of revealing more than anybody cares or ought to know--my own ego included--I'd say it's debatable whether or not I'm "comfortable" using any facility. The cultural and psychic significance of "going potty" is overdetermined. It's impossible to regard as merely functional. I once exploited this phenomenon when I wrote a paper about the law's relationship to poop, but that's another story. If you must, see Julian Yates, Error, Misuse, Failure: Object Lessons from the English Renaissance for background.

But I've also often felt that we are far too delicate about utterly normal corporal operations. I imagine we might be less so if unisex facilities were the norm. But then we'd miss out on a lot of frankly hilarious scatological humor, too. I mean, Rabelais, for crying out loud!

I'd find it hilarious to use: endless opportunity for tongue-out, finger-waving mooney-dances. The social license to be a wacky exhibitionist without repercussion is almost as genius as the subtle provocation of discomfort.

Given a host of data ranging from that my 60-something parents still skinny dip in their pool; to that as a 19 year old, two friends and I decorated my nude body with a paint tapestry that we then showed off around our college dorm (it was Reed College, so our work triggered only mild amusement and a few comments like, "needs more blue/orange/purple"), I suspect that I'm not near the center of the nudity-comfort spectrum.

Even for more modest folks, though, while pooping is pooping, when it comes to urinating, aren't the stakes here different for men vs. women? Sitting on a can to do your business versus facing the crowds shaking your Willy strike me as entirely different psychological propositions.

Speaking of which, I don't see any sanitary covers in that photo. Worth noting, since having to hunker would be a great equalizer here.

Sujatha: while someone can see through clear glass into, e.g., a lit room at night but not into a dark room during the day, would that still be the case with one way glass? I don't really understand the science, but know anecdotally that at child psychology clinics and such I've been in a brighter room in which we could not be seen by people in a dimmer room on the other side of the one way glass.

The "one-way mirror" effect of the glass will work only if the reflective side (the outside) is much brighter than the transparent side (the inside). So, Sujatha is right to worry about nighttime use. The only way the effect will hold at night is if the outside of the toilet is very brightly lit compared to the inside.

As for unnecessary delicacy regarding bodily functions, Dean, you need to go to India. Take a morning train through the country side. You will see lines of people relieving themselves in the fields and along rail lines. Only, there is no toilet in sight.

I saw an open men's toilet in Amsterdam at a busy intersection. It did not have anything for cover except a short curved wall along which the urinals were fitted. You couldn't see much except the backs of the users but you could see.

Anna, imagine a reversal of your tongue-out, finger-waving mooney-dances scenario. A passerby with a sense of humor might do the same pretending to look inside. You know he/she can't see you but it can still be a bit unnerving for the user, don't you think?

I would have no problem using the toilet if I had to really go and there was no other option. But I would take a careful look around all four walls to make sure that you really can't see "in" from the outside.

More on the toilet depicted in the photos here

An art installation? That makes more sense.

I just thought of something - why the toilet is not as private as it sounds. Since the opacity of the "mirrored" side is dependent on the light differential on two sides of the glass, here is how one can see through the one way mirror:

Press your nose to the glass. Position your palms along two sides of your face like a screen to cut out the light and create a dark circle through which to peer in. You will be able to see through the glass. I have never tried it. But the physics makes sense.

Now, if there was a shamelessly curious passer by ...

Random responses here.

Yes, indeed, Anna, the old "get stoned and naked and paint your body like a tapestry" routine. Heck, I'm nearing 50 and I still play that one from time to work! (I know you didn't mention the part about getting stoned, but c'mon, it was Reed!)

I bet you think I didn't catch the pun about different stakes for men and women. But seriously, to my knowledge shaking any particular appendage has never been a requisite for urination. In fact, it could seriously undermine the enterprise. And then there are guys who suffer from prostatitis, for which sitting provides a modicum of relief (so I'm told).

I do have to visit India, Ruchira, but not for the reason you specify. I mean, that sort of thing goes on here in the Bay Area, but as with most other undertakings it's delivered here with real panache.

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