Jewish World Review June 4, 2003 / 4 Sivan, 5763

David Grimes

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Consumer Reports

Do we really need keyboards in our Port-A-Johns? | I was sorry to read that Microsoft Corp. has abandoned its plans to build an Internet-enabled portable toilet.

I can't count the number of times I've used a portable toilet and said to myself, "Gosh darn it! This experience would sure be a lot more pleasant if I could dash off a few e-mails right now! Also, some toilet paper would be nice, too!"

When the story of the Internet-enabled toilet first made the news, Microsoft dismissed it as a hoax. But then company officials learned that the British branch of Microsoft had indeed been working on a project of that sort, with the hopes of wheeling it out, so to speak, in time for the summer concert season.

This confusion no doubt caused great embarrassment at Microsoft and should be a lesson to employees everywhere that if you are currently trying to build an Internet-enabled portable toilet, you should make sure that your boss knows what's going on.

While some might argue that the idea of an Internet-enabled portable toilet tells you all you need to know about the wisdom of investing in technology stocks, I think it is exactly the kind of creative thinking we need nowadays to take our minds off of war, terror alerts and that nagging cough and low-grade fever we seem to have contracted recently. It's hard to be saddened by the deplorable state of the Middle Eastern peace process when you're seated in a cramped, overheated, foul-smelling edifice with pop-up ads dancing before your eyes.

And it's hard to call it the World's Stupidest Idea when you consider that carmakers have been wiring dashboards to the Internet for some time now. Which do you feel more threatened by: A portable toilet that makes funny beeping sounds or some lunatic in a Ford Explorer fishtailing down the highway at 80 mph while attempting to download porn?

I suppose there are a few mossbacks out there who think we're inundated with far too much technology already and find it depressing that someone wants to invade that last bastion of privacy: the bathroom. (Anyone with children knows that the word "privacy" carries no meaning when applied to anyone other than themselves. Scrolling through a seemingly endless procession of spam is vastly preferable to having your teenager rifle through your wallet for movie money.)

The sad or happy fact, depending on your point of view, is that technology is here to stay and it's only going to get worse (or better). In a world where we've already got robotic cats and talking washing machines, it's rather amazing that someone would even question the wisdom of hooking up Port-O-Lets to the Internet.

So the next time you hear voices emanating from a portable toilet, don't call the police or think you're going crazy. It's just the sound of progress.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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