Automation has arrived in the Public Restroom

public restroom

A few months ago, I attended a day of meetings with a client at a local golf club. During a break, I decided to use the restroom.  After a couple of cups of coffee and a steady flow of water, it was rather necessary. After I washed my hands, I walked over to the paper towel dispenser and couldn’t figure out how to extract paper from it. I could clearly see it was full, but there was no obvious way, it seemed to me, for paper to come out. I stood there, with dripping wet hands, dumbfounded. Then suddenly, my younger colleague, dare I say, a Millennial, waved her hand over a particular spot on the dispenser, and lo and behold, paper appeared. I was amazed. And confused. I couldn’t figure out the fancy technology behind a paper towel dispenser in a public restroom.

Once my hands were dry, I looked around this restroom and noticed that it was quite automated. Public restrooms are no longer just a flushing toilet and basic sink. There is complicated technology in there. And since that day, I have been most intrigued by the various kinds of technology that now exist in the public restroom.

I don’t have a bunch of photos to go with this blog post as I think I may have been stared at, or worse, arrested, if I started to take photos inside a public restroom. So, I will just go through some of my observations.

Some people believe – and some don’t – that the public restroom is one of the most germ and bacteria-infested places one can visit. Whether it be door handles, the floor, taps, sink or the toilet itself, we are encouraged to touch as little as possible in there. So, I guess it makes sense that there has been a big investment technology in the public restroom to help keep us clean and safe. But you have to touch some things, right? How about the toilet paper? Or is that covered in bacteria too?

The public restroom experience begins when you walk through the door. Buildings that are sensitive and inclusive always have the handicapped button on all doors, which is great. Recently I saw an even better button, which is both inclusive and perfect for germaphobes: you wave your hand in front of the button and the door opens. Brilliant!

public restroom
I got a photo of this, on the outside of a restroom. Just so smart.

Once inside, you will need to touch a door or at least the door handle, if you want to walk into, close and lock your cubicle door (I haven’t been in a public restroom yet that has an automated door on the cubicle). But the toilet, now that’s an automated beast.  How many times have you approached a toilet and it starts to flush before you even use it? Or how many times did you finish your business and the toilet didn’t flush? You search for a button, a switch or some sensor where you can wave your hands, and nothing. What do you do? Do you walk away and hope the smart toilet flushes on its own eventually?

Many public restrooms have installed the automated sink and soap dispenser. For some of them I find that I have to put my hands in a very specific spot and hold them still on a certain angle so that the water can flow. And I love the sinks that have the automated water and soap all together in one contraption.  There was one public restroom I particularly liked, in the airport in Rome, Italy (again, sorry, no photo), where each individual sink had an automatic tap, soap dispenser and even hand dryer. It was simple, clearly marked and very intelligent.

I feel like we are on the cusp of full automation in the public restroom. Most of the solutions, while sometimes confusing and complex at first, are very intelligent – and inclusive. I particularly love the technology that allows me to wave my hand to activate it (even though some of the sensors are still weak and don’t notice I’m there). The world is embracing technology everywhere, so why not in the public restroom?

How Automated will our Future be?


Another winter weekend and another Friday night drive up to our family country home for a weekend of skiing. We have such interesting conversations during the two-hour trip. I think I may have to make the conversations of our Friday night drive a weekly blog feature. The topics of conversation are just so interesting. One of the topics we covered during this week’s drive: how automated will our future be, and with that, what jobs will disappear?

It was a toss-up for me about which topic was most interesting during our car ride, an automated future or the history of small pox (David and Matthew like to discuss war, but they also enjoy talking about disease and death). In the end, our sometimes bizarre though, for the most part, fascinating conversation about an automated future, sticks with me most.

Over the past 250 years the world has seen tremendous change. The Industrial Revolution, which altered work from hand production to machines and industry, marks a major turning point in history, and our transition from manual to automated seems to accelerate by the day.

What fascinated my son throughout our conversation were the careers, jobs and industries that exist today, in 2018, that may disappear in the future because of automation. It was interesting to hear his perspective, at age ten, about how he sees the future and the career path he may take – based on jobs that may or may not exist.

For example, he questioned the need for doctors in the future. That may seem shocking to you, but his reasoning was logical, in part. I will admit that he used Star Wars as his prime example of a future with no doctors or no need for them. Matthew has a creative mind and his thoughts are often inspired by what he sees and experiences. But he is also very intelligent and insightful. He is also highly influenced by the technology that surrounds him every day.

So, here is what Matthew explained to me about why he questions the need for trained doctors in the future. It was, as I expected, all about technology. He feels that all medical questions can be researched and answered by the internet – yes, Dr. Google. He thinks that robotics is a technology of the future, where robots and droids can treat people and even do surgery. For him, it’s all about an automated future.

As we rely more heavily on technology, no doubt there are thousands of jobs that disappear every year. Grocery stores are investing in the “self-check-out.” Online retailers like Amazon are testing drones to deliver packages to customers. Factories need fewer employees to build, create and package product. It is all in the name of automation. Fewer jobs and lower cost to deliver a service.

But I also feel that with an automated future, where we lose jobs in factories, medicine or stores, we also gain jobs in other sectors. Technology, as it evolves, still needs the human touch to create, develop and maintain it. The career of the IT professional, web developer or digital marketer didn’t even exist a few decades ago.

2018 may not be when we experience a new Industrial Revolution but rather a Technology Revolution. With an automated future, we have to evolve the way we think and develop our careers. The way my children see their future is so different than how I saw mine. I don’t think a droid doctor will be doing surgery on my anytime soon, but my son thinks it’s coming. He discounts a medical career path as he has determined that technology will kill that career.

For me, as I sit at a crossroads mid-career, in my early forties, I know that I must embrace the Technology Revolution and ride the road it will take me on. This blog is my first step as I bring together the craft I love – writing – with an automated future full of technology – the blog, internet and social media. It’s exciting and a little scary, but I’m ready.

And as for my son, Matthew, and his future career? If you ask him, he will tell you that he wants to pursue some kind of business, and he wants to make a lot of money. He won’t expand and share any details on that dream to me, but I guess I can’t complain. He has an idea of what the future may be, and I’m excited to watch it unfold.

The Stress of Calling my Telecommunications Provider


I sat on hold on the phone for 45 minutes yesterday. That’s not bad. I figured I would be on hold for 60 minutes. And it took much longer to get up the nerve to pick up the phone and dial. It is stressful, bordering on traumatic, every time I need to call my telecommunications provider.

We live in an age and in a society in which we rely heavily on technology and the services that support this habit. Gone are the days when households paid for a telephone line and maybe some basic cable. Today’s major telecommunications companies in Canada, such as Rogers, Bell, Telus and Shaw, to name a few, began as single-service providers and grew into so much more.

A typical Canadian home, like mine, subscribes to many services, including a home phone, TV cable or satellite, internet and wireless. Many telecommunications companies also offer alarm monitoring, online sports packages or even magazine subscriptions. I personally don’t have all of these, few of us do, but I have many of them.

Telecommunications companies love lazy people like me. I can’t be bothered to have each service in my home from a different company, so I can play one off another and keep the price down. It’s just easier to choose one of them and maximize the value. They also love me because I like to subscribe to some premium levels of their services as I don’t have the time or energy to do much on my own.

For example, some people subscribe to basic cable, then they also have Netflix and/or other downloadable, web-based options like Hulu. Or some of them dumped cable altogether and exclusively get content from a mix of web-based subscriptions. It’s a bit more work to find what you want to watch in different ways. I just can’t be bothered. I stuck to my telecommunications provider’s “VIP Cable” option and get it in one place.

Eventually, I did drop my telecommunications provider’s home phone service. I was paying almost $50 per month for a phone line that was attached to my internet’s modem, and that was even too much for me. Thanks to my IT savvy brother, I switched to a fantastic option called Fongo that also is internet-based but only costs $5 per month. It’s not perfect, but it’s cheaper.

Not perfect. None of my services are perfect. The internet is often slow or doesn’t work at all. My kids love to watch the “on-demand” channels on TV, but so often get a message on the TV screen that says “service not available right now.”

And Canadians pay way too much for our wireless services. Why does data have to be so expensive? Why should I pay so much for so little?

Which brings me back to where I began. I sat on hold on the phone for 45 minutes yesterday. To get more data and more Canada-wide talk time, for less than I was paying before. And to get credit on my account for a massive internet outage in my home the previous month. I knew I had to make the call and felt my heart race as I dialed the toll-free number.

I upgraded my wireless services and got the full credit for the telecommunications company’s internet screw-up. But my bill is still too high and the service I receive is still not good enough.

But the call is over. Until next time.

*Note to my readers: My brother explained to me that one Canadian telecommunications company put out an incredible wireless deal recently, and with tremendous pressure all their competitors followed suit. I just switched to a wireless plan that gives me (yes, just my mobile device) 10 GB of data and unlimited Canada wide calling, for just $60 per month. There’s always the famous asterisk online, so read all the details if you want to get this deal too. But this deal, or at least the specific one I got, expires TODAY. So if you want it, do it now!



The 2017 Holiday season has arrived. Halloween is over and the kids consumed more sugar in one night than they do in a typical month. Our American friends ate their turkey with all the fixings on Thursday and Thanksgiving has passed.  Black Friday triggered the official start of the season of buying, consuming and capitalism at its best. Cyber Monday, yesterday, brought out the best in technology and yes, more buying and consuming. Which brings us to today, Giving Tuesday, or more commonly spelled, #GivingTuesday.

We all own too much, we buy too much and we always feel we just need too much. From the ten-pound diaper bag full of supplies for the baby to the children’s playroom overflowing with toys to my own closet stuffed with clothing I barely wear, we have too much. We consume too much.

For me, #GivingTuesday is a breath of fresh air. After days of over-consumption (food and shopping!), I welcome a day to give. Founded in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City and the United Nations Foundation, this annual international day of giving has raised and moved hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the age of technology, this movement gained momentum almost overnight. And yes, like so many other things, it has its own hashtag. The internet and social media has given #GivingTuesday a tremendous platform to just do good. And I love that.

Okay, I will admit that my email inbox was overwhelmed this morning by requests from many organizations asking me to give them a donation. They are all worthy causes, and I do want to support them. I also got a ton of emails from the same retailers who bombarded me with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to now join them in giving back today.

Charitable organizations and businesses are asking me to “celebrate” with them, to use this as an “opportunity” to give and to be “part of something big.” They are all correct, that in the craziness of the Holiday season we should take a moment to pause, to stop buying and just give.

Giving does not necessarily mean handing over money. It could also mean that you can give of yourself and your time. My life is busy, and as I have written recently, often overwhelming. All those emails and social media posts are reminding me to slow down and maybe think of someone else who is more overwhelmed than I am. It reminds me that no matter how much I am balancing in my life and all the stresses I am facing, I can still help someone else.

I am not able today to give money or time to every charity that solicits a donation from me. But I will definitely give to some of them and through this blog I hope I can pay it forward and encourage all of you, my loyal readers, to participate in #GivingTuesday today. Make a donation to a charity that is close to your heart. Volunteer your time. Help a friend. Be kind to a stranger. That’s what today is all about. Let’s do something good. We will all be better off.

Keep your Head up and no more Distracted Walking

distracted driving

Are you going to be a zombie for Halloween this year? Or are you a zombie every day and maybe you will make a change on October 31 and wake up. If you live in Honolulu, Hawaii, you may consider going as a giant ticket or a traveling smart phone this year because zombies are not welcome in this city anymore. We have all heard of distracted driving, but have you ever heard of distracted walking?

It was all over the news yesterday. Honolulu is the first city to formally pass a distracted walking law, also known as the “Zombie law.” The city wants people to wake up and pay attention when they cross the street. A person can be ticketed and fined if a police officer deems that individual to be distracted while walking,

Let’s be real. What does distracted walking really mean? It refers to people who are more engrossed in whatever it is on their smart phone than what is on the road ahead of them. As I wrote about earlier this week, we all share the roads, and we all need to respect the others around us.

It is easy to picture the distracted walker. The person could be male or female, 25 years old or 65 years old. The smart phone is held tightly in one or both hands. The body is slightly slumped forward with both eyes fixed on the screen. Sometimes the fingers are typing away some inane message to a friend or colleague. The person is totally unaware of the busy street – or world – around him or her.

This person bumps into other people on the sidewalk, crosses the intersection when the light is about to turn red and does not check to make sure a car is not coming. Whatever is on the screen of the phone is clearly more important than staying safe as he or she cross the road.

I will admit that once in a while I become a zombie when I walk down the sidewalk. I try to avoid this behaviour unless I need to contact someone urgently, but yes, sometimes I am guilty. Admit it – you are guilty too. We are becoming a society of zombies. You don’t need to waste money dropping $15 at a movie theatre anymore to see the latest zombie flick. Just head downtown and watch the zombies cross the street.

But do we need laws that actually ban people from checking their smart phones while they cross the street? I would say no. As we embrace technology and change our lives each day to include it, we must adjust our behaviour and be responsible. It’s great that I can text my family who live in New Zealand while I am in downtown Toronto. I love that I can check the score in the baseball game no matter where I’m walking. And it thrills my mother that she can call her three children no matter where we are.

But I can send that text when I sit down at the local coffee shop. While I am a big sports fan, I don’t have to know the score in the game while I’m walking along the sidewalk. I can speak to my mother on the phone later. What I – or anyone around me is doing on the smart phone really is not urgent. Whatever it is I or those around me are doing really can wait.

Let’s face it, distracted walking is dangerous. It’s dangerous to the distracted person and to everyone – the pedestrians, drivers and cyclists – on the street as well. It even seems to be dangerous to “motionless objects such as street signs, doors or walls,” according to a warning in the United States from the National Safety Council (I have never walked into a street sign, door or wall while using my smart phone. Have you?!).

Be smart when you use your smart phone. When you are walking to your car, running for the bus or crossing the street to get a coffee, drop your phone in your purse or pocket for a few minutes. Don’t be accused of distracted walking, especially if you live in (or are visiting) Honolulu.

Are we too Tech Savvy?

tech savvy

We live in the Technology Age. If you look back through history, there was the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages, even the Machine Age and Space Age, to name a few. For me, what defines the Age we live in today is our reliance on information and computerization of everything we do. To succeed, do we need to be tech savvy?

When I was a child, you knew a tech savvy household if your friend owned an Atari or a Commodore 64 computer. I remember my amazement, back in 1987 when my brother got his first computer. I think it was a DOS-based operating system. A short time later my father brought home our family’s first laptop. All I remember is that it was a 286. I couldn’t tell you any more than that.

tech savvy

My brother also had a Sega video game system and a Gameboy. We were one of the first homes on the block to get a VCR and later a flat-screen TV. I will never forget the first time my mother used our car phone – a behemoth that she shook in the air on the highway sometimes to let some rude driver know that SHE had a direct line to the police in her car because she had a car phone.

tech savvy

But these devices did not define us. No doubt we enjoyed those early computers, video game systems and technology toys, but we did not rely on them. Life was, in some ways, manually operated. But not today.

For example, my son is working with a partner from his class on a presentation for school. They need to prepare a 3-5-minute presentation on a particular topic. Their teacher told them that how they present is up to them When I was ten years-old and wanted to be creative, I put on a skit in front of my class or I used a combination of construction paper, scissors and glue.

But these two, tech savvy fifth graders, would have none of that. I watched and listened in amazement as they planned out a power point presentation, which will include a short video (that they will shoot and edit with an iPad) followed by a quiz for the class. In less than two hours they put together said power point presentation (video is coming soon), and I almost deleted it when I tried to press save. My son clearly knows more about power point than I do!

Julia, at maybe two years old, showed her grandmother the basics how to swipe through an iPad and how to get into her favourite app of the time, Angry Birds. Nessa, at 16-months old, deftly touches the FaceTime app on the iPad so she can enjoy late-night chats with my mother. When I was that age all I had was a plastic Fisher Price telephone. And if I wanted to get in touch with my grandparents when I was ten years old, it was an expensive long-distance call or a personally written letter – using that same construction paper.

Okay, so children are tech savvy and from a young age know their way around computers, tablets and smartphones. Millennials could teach me a thing or two about how to properly leverage social media. But what about my generation – known as Generation X? Are we tech savvy now? Have we gone from construction paper and Fisher Price phones to email and texts?

I would say, yes, we have. I don’t know if most of us are tech savvy, but we are definitely tech reliant. And I think we are too tech reliant.

In my last job, and in my current consulting work in communications, I receive too many emails. I also send too many emails. If the person is sitting 30 feet away from me, wouldn’t it be easier to stand up to ask him or her my question? Or I could  pick up a phone and call versus sending a lengthy email? If I have a great idea and want to share it with a group, do I have another option than a multi visual power point presentation?

When people applied for jobs decades ago, they didn’t have LinkedIn. Human resources professionals did not have databases where they could type in key words that would be pulled from a pile of 100 resumes that had been uploaded to a website. Job searching and employee hiring was definitely more manual, and maybe it was also more time consuming. But it was more personal. A human resource professional or a hiring manager often read through all the resumes. The only option to follow up on a job application was to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Was that better, or maybe it was worse? It was definitely different.

When I send an email today – to my mother, to my friend, to my work colleague or to a potential employer – will that person see that email, in the hundreds that person may receive on any given day? Will the person read the email? Will that person reply to me? Do I rely too much on that email to determine my fate? Maybe I should pick up the telephone more often, or knock on my friend’s door.

Am I too tech savvy? No. Maybe I should be, or at least I should be with respect to some parts of my life. The Technology Age is here, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I love this blog, and I love that technology has given me an avenue to express my musings. I love that social media has given me a tool to amplify my blog and to share moments and photos instantaneously. But I also want to be careful and not rely too much on technology. I want to retain some of my manually operated nature and the personal interactions that go with it.

Google Analytics are Cool but Creepy


I attended a meeting recently, or rather a series of meetings, with a group of marketing, brand and communications professionals. The theme of these meetings was, “Know yourself and know your audience.” One session focused on how to run a business in a digital world and the strategies and tactics businesses utilize to collect analytics on perspective and current clients.  The meeting’s facilitator dove deep into how she is collecting data – and applying that data about users – using, what else, Google.

We saw slide after slide about how businesses are grabbing key data as we surf the internet. After a few slides one person in the room called out, “Wow, that is both so cool and so creepy.” Exactly my thoughts.

Technology has done wonders for our ability to track everything we do. I love that I can search for the best price for my next flight, buy a new pair of shoes or find my next job on the internet, from the comfort of my couch. I don’t have to stand in line to pay or search for a parking spot at a busy mall. No one is tapping on my shoulder, with a fake smile, saying, “can I help you?” I can search, buy or sign up in the privacy of my own home.

Ah, but while I feel like what I am doing is private – that I can search and find what I need on my own and my transaction is between me, my computer and the website – oh boy, that is wrong. The crowded store in the busy mall will know much less about me than the business’s website I am visiting to make my transaction. Thanks to Google tracking and analytics.

That website can track my IP address and know exactly where I am located. If I have an account with that business and buy stuff often, they know a lot about me and my buying preferences. They track every page I visit on their website, how I go from page to page and how often I spend on those pages.

Do you have an account with Facebook? Take a look at the ads on the right side of your screen or the sponsored content that appears in your newsfeed. If I had booked a hotel online recently I may see an ad for the hotel chain where I will be staying. If I clicked on a link posted by a Facebook friend about a particular brand, I may see ads from that brand. Thanks to Google analytics, businesses and brands follow my internet searching and clicking behaviour and I see customized content and ads based on those analytics.

Really cool, and ya, really creepy.

I give Google credit that they don’t hide this. Go to Google and do a search for “Google analytics” and you find this:

Google Analytics Solutions – Marketing Analytics & Measurement …

Google Analytics Solutions offer free and enterprise analytics tools to measure website, app, digital and offline data to gain customer insights.

Customer insights. What’s that? Well, according to Wikipedia (yes, I like to search for background information on this website and they must love me) it is an “interpretation of trends in human behaviours which aims to increase effectiveness of a product or service for the consumer, as well as increase sales for mutual benefit.”

To me, that’s a fancy way of saying that a business collects as much as they can about me so they can target me so I spend money with them. Cool but creepy.

As businesses invest more in technology and we, as a society, rely more heavily on technology, they, using our friend Google, will track our moves and our behaviours more and more. It’s exciting to see what technology can do and also a bit scary. I will still do my searching and buying online, at home, on my couch. And most of the time I will start on my favourite website, Google.