Online, on the Toilet

If there's one thing that's been missing from my life, it's the ability to surf the web and check email while sitting on the toilet. Okay, that and hearing the news that Carrot Top and Rosie O'Donnell will be matched up on the next "Celebrity Boxing." Now, thanks to the British arm of Microsoft, I can strike one of those from my list. No, they're not sponsoring my dream boxing match-up, they're going to roll out an Internet-connected porta-potty this summer, just in time for the music festival season. Al Bundy, eat your heart out.

The iLoo, which will probably be renamed Surf-n-Squat if and when it shows up here in the U.S., will look pretty much like any other portable toilet from the outside, which isn't surprising since porta-potties pretty much qualify as public art. Inside, however, will be another story. In addition to the usual portable toilet amenities there will be a computer under the sink, six-channel surround sound, a flat-screen monitor, and a waterproof wireless keyboard you can put on your lap. Go ahead, let your mind run rampant, it will mean one less obvious comment I have to include here.

The development of iLoo should come as no surprise since companies have been adding Internet access to everything. You can log on from your cell phone, Palm Pilot, even your refrigerator. That's right, LG Electronics is selling an $8,000 Internet refrigerator that comes with a 15-inch monitor, 20-gig hard drive, MP3 player, and digital camera. Oh yeah, and an icemaker to cool you down when you get too excited from surfing the 'Net while standing in the kitchen.

The fridge isn't the first appliance to be hooked up to the Internet. A couple of years ago NCR Corporation showed off a prototype Microwave Bank which was a combination microwave oven, ATM, television, and computer rolled up in one. It was supposed to pay bills, keep track of your shopping list, search the web for recipes, and cook any piece of meat you try to defrost. This result of 21st century corporate glue-sniffing was voice activated ("Find porn") or could be used with a touch screen that displayed a virtual keyboard ("Fidn pron"). Thus, a few simple keystrokes would let you check the TV listings, locate a cooking show that suits your mood, then follow along, making the same dish they were. Well, as long as they were preparing a frozen pizza.

For some reason NCR never released the Microwave Bank. Maybe for the same reasons Microsoft is only building one iLoo for now. But what a loo it will be. Microsoft, ever one to pay attention to details as long as they don't involve keeping your computer safe from hackers, is working hard to make the iLoo a total experience. One nice touch is that they're trying to get toilet paper manufacturers to print special rolls with web addresses on them. You know, useful web sites like www.got-hemorrhoids.com, www.nair.com, and www.stoplookingatpornsosomeoneelsecanusetheloo.com. This last one might definitely be necessary since they say they won't limit your time inside unless it gets out of hand, so to speak, though just to play it safe there will be a monitor and keyboard outside so people can check their email while waiting in line. Right, like you'll be able to answer email while fidgeting, crossing your legs tightly, and wishing you'd gotten in line for one of the hundreds of boring old low-tech single-function porta-potties on the other side of the festival.

Actually, it's hard to believe anyone will want to hang out in the iLoo very long. At least not anyone who has a functioning sense of smell. Unless, that is, Microsoft uses the "Aromatherapeutic Homecare Cleaning Products" put out by a company in Minneapolis. Don't laugh. Their "Powerful chemicals with the pleasure of Aromatherapy" have my housecleaning vote. I don't know about you, but I could use something to put me in a better frame of mind when I have to scrub the bathroom after someone's been in there surfing the Internet for an hour or so.

Even if they hose the iLoo down with Lysol in the new Cyber-Serenity™ scent, people still won't hang around for long. Do you have any idea how irritating it will be to be chatting with a friend online and have to keep typing, "Hang on, I need to reboot the toilet"? Of course I'm sure people will quickly start using the acronym HOINTRTT. Or maybe invent an emoticon for it. All this is, of course, predicated on the assumption that there will be a computer, monitor, and keyboard in there when it's your turn. Microsoft has considered this problem and says they'll post a guard outside. And you thought you were pee shy now.

This isn't the first time Microsoft's put the Internet in the hands of festival-goers. A couple of years ago they sent a "cyber park bench" out on the circuit. Since they've abandoned it, I have to think it either wasn't popular or they got tired of shooing away the virtual homeless people who slept on the benches, covering themselves with e-books to keep warm and propping a sign next to them that says: "Will accept PayPal for food."

While free Internet access at a festival is a good idea, you have to question the practicality and usability of the iLoo. If Microsoft really wanted to make festival goers' lives easier they'd set up free wireless DSL so you could check your email from the car while you're sitting in the massive post-festival traffic jam trying to get out of the parking lot. At least then you could email your family to tell them you're on the way home and to expect you in, oh, two or three days. Longer if you have to make a stop at the iLoo.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

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