Towards touch-free spaces: sensors, software and the automatic production of shared public toilets
Abstract: New software-enabled technologies are changing the social and material production of everyday landscapes, and re-figuring the embodied relationships between people and the environment through touch. Touching with hands is integral to so much technologic activity and control - the pressing of buttons, pulling of handles, flicking switches, twisting selector dials, and so on. And yet touch is an overlooked spatial sense and practice in human geography. It perhaps then somewhat ironic that in this paper we are concerned with the reverse situation, as we interrogate the nature of mundane technologies that are designed to work without direct human touch. As such, we consider how tools and appliances are being designed and engineered to interact and respond appropriately to people by remotely sensing the presence of human bodies, and offering modes of control that are proximate rather than using physical touch. We focus on electronic/digital technologies, being applied in everyday contexts, that use sensors and software to automatically produce spaces that can react to people (or at a minimum bodily shaped objects) in meaningful ways without direct contact. To begin to explain the nature of this automatic production of touch-free spatiality we concentrate our analysis on shared public toilets, vital but somewhat disregarded spaces of modern life.
Keywords: toilets, automation, software, sensors, code/space
I've made this draft is available as a working paper on the Social Science Research Network, SSRN-id1966248. Another version of the chapter is due to come out in a new book I've been co-editing, Touching Space, Placing Touch (to be published by Ashgate at some point in 2012).