This seems to be a particular problem for me with water fountains, since there seems to be such a variety of them out there. Some of them have plates you push, some have weird ledges that need to be pushed down… some just have simple knobs. I encountered this one at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how to work the darn thing. I really waved my hands around it, like a wizard with a crystal ball, trying to determine if it was activated somehow by motion or proximity. Finally, I bent over to look under that dish thing on top, and noticed a little knob on the side that wasn’t otherwise visible, at least from the direction I walked up to it. It turns out I wasn’t the only person with this problem– Lorie said she found it a little confusing at first too.

I think versions of this will become more and more commonplace as technology gets more and more integrated into the simple backdrop of our lives. I think we’ve all had the experience of walking up to an automatic door expecting it to open, only to stand there as it remains shut, for just a little too long. Is it broken? Will it open if I get closer? Maybe it’s just slow? Even better are the doors that don’t quite open soon enough, or fast enough, so you actually almost run square into them.

Airport bathrooms, though– those things seem to be almost universally automated wonderlands. These days it seems like you can go in and out without actually needing to push buttons, turn knobs, or even handle paper towels. I think the only thing that’s probably still manually operated are the toilet paper dispensers, so I’ll have to check that out next time I find myself traveling by air. Oh, and the stall doors… those are probably still manipulated by physical interaction too.