Interacting With: The Paper Towel Dispenser
Last updated: Feb 6, 2020
Suphitcha and I analyzed the all-gender bathrooms on the 4th floor to get a sense of some intangible interactions and what’s going on in the foreground and background of the automatic dispensing devices installed in the interest of convenience and hygiene.
I took several photos.
In the process of trying to document the appearance and action of each of the sensor-based fixtures (toilet, towel dispenser, soap dispenser, faucet, hand dryer), we were constantly accidentally setting off devices we were not paying attention to. Several times we were startled by a flush, a sudden paper towel dispensation, or the blower activating.
That said, I decided to focus on the paper towel dispenser.
The dispenser NYU has installed appears to be the Georgia-Pacific 59466A recessed automated paper towel dispenser. A compact “enMotion”-powered system. Behind a protectiveThere is a sensor on the front as well as three lights that—according to the documentation—correspond to paper maintenance, power issues, and then a kind of general-purpose “Dispensing Activity” light that seems to mean a few different things.
The sensing distance is adjustable—it may be set to one, two, or three inches. As it is currently installed in the bathroom, the sensor area is very easy to bump into with your elbow. There also exists a “Hang Mode” setting that seems to determine whether the paper towel should be hanging when the user arrives at the machine or whether it should wait to dispense until a user waves their hand. As-is, I believe “Hang Mode” is off, but the light-based proximity sensor is so easily activated that there is usually some paper towel dangling down and lying on the table.
The paper towel dispenser is almost overeager to serve a user some paper goods. In this push towards convenience, it actually becomes a kind of funny, just-barely-competent bathroom appliance.