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Blue Rinse

Tokyo: toilet bowl as feedback mechanism

A familiar sight in the (toilet-bowl-using) world over.

But it could and ultimately will, be so much more.

Expat discussions about toilets in Japan tend to center around technologies: under seat lighting to support more accurate target acquisition i.e. taking a half-drunken midnight pee; bacteria neutralising porcelain for when you miss anyway, chaps; a range of audio options; heated seats to counter a lack of central heating in most Japanese homes; fans to extract odor; air jets & a fine mist to cool and help cope with the intense Japanese summer heat; and the needless complexity of wireless remote control user interfaces. Which is all uninteresting enough – because ultimately it’s the real time analysis of what we excrete that can and will have the biggest impact on everyday life.

I had the pleasure a while back to hear Roger Ibars talk about reflective moments – those momentary pauses in the flow of everyday tasks that provide an opportunity to, well, reflect and gauge your current status. And as Roger reminded, glancing at the colour of pee is one of those moments. Simply consider the range of what can be tested from urine & stool samples to understand what can be monitored and fed back. And there-in lies the challenge for tomorrows Toto engineers & scientists – what information to feedback (to whom) and in what format?

Which is why the light blue rinse that you see above is an indicator of what is, ahem, yet to pass. The colour of the liquid in the toilet bowl will be the most commonly used mechanism to feedback relatively minor but good-to-know status updates about the state of your body, a simply chemical adaptation of what many of you already do today. (The critical stuff will sent directly to your doctor/insurance company, so that they can break the news to you gently, unless of course you think you can handle staring down at a blood red toilet bowl).

Given human limitations – whether its remembering which colours are associated with what, to our ability to effectively distinguish between colours, what are the other parameters can will be put into play by tomorrows porcelain experience designers?

Where does this lead to in the future perfect? Lower insurance premiums for your employer when they install (and allow the remote monitoring of) your [insurance company] sponsored washroom? Paparazzi sponsored automatous devices travelling the sewage systems monitoring the home of ‘media friendly targets’ for signs of pregnancy, disease? That you are willing to walk an extra three blocks to use a unmonitored public toilet? Pissing in a ditch will be the equivalent of paying cash.

Is this a technological ‘advance’ that applies to everyone equally? Reflecting on the colour of pee is more of a male behaviour – the standing posture supports reflection and it is usually a singular event – it is, after all difficult to multi-task whilst maintaining accuracy. But in part women are more likely to wipe before rising off the bowl – and the tissue obscures the colour of the liquid. Or will the dual ply, become just another feedback mechanism?