Rob Walker | Essays

Shower Head As Moral Crossroad

Possibly the dual shower head is commonplace place in the wider world, but it’s not in mine. So when I recently encountered one in a hotel-room shower, I found it confusing, and vaguely freakish. I wondered: Is this some thick-headed vision of progress — the same level of “innovation” that answers the three-blade razor with a four-blader? Or is it simply a production error, an industrial design mutant?

What I would soon learn is that whatever the original intent, what it had become was, of all things, a moral crossroad.

As you might notice, there’s a sign hung just behind this two-header. Signs in the shower are another phenomenon I’m not used to. I read it carefully. “Refresh yourself,” it said in large type, and then in slightly smaller type: “restore our world.”

I had to keep reading all the type that was smaller still in order to absorb that this was my choice. I would not be able to do both.

According to the sign, one of the “Heavenly Shower heads” on this object had been disabled, “in an effort to minimize water usage and protect one of our most precious natural resources.”

But … if I wanted to “experience the most” from the Heavenly Shower contraption, I could reactive its full powers by pushing an indicated button.  

I see. I can “experience the most” — provided that my interest in doing so trumps my interest in “protecting one of our most precious natural resources.” So go ahead: push the button and refresh yourself, hotshot. Precious resources can go to hell!

I’m sure that this hotel chain did not set out to convert its showers into a consumer behavior laboratory, confronting every guest with a stark choice between personal indulgence and the greater good. Probably the Heavenly Shower heads were installed in more carefree years. Probably they were then semi-disabled as a cost-saving maneuver. Probably the sign I was reading was a face-saving afterthought, spiced with a little eco-happy marketing claptrap.

Nevertheless. It’s a jarringly honest thing, this sign, if one takes the time to read it. "Refresh yourself or restore our world," is what it meant, and it may as well have said simply: “You cannot have it all.”  Of course, that is precisely the last line of thought a bleary traveler, who just wants to take a damn shower, after all, wants to pursue.

Which is why this sign totally made my day.

Comments [9]

Ah! Saw one of these in Montreal last month. The kicker (for me): When you turned on the full monty, double-barreled option, you still just got a basic shower experience. Except now you felt guilty about it, so you pretty much had to back to the single. Basically, it's a water-saver disguised as a luxury option, was my takeaway.
Peter Kafka

I too saw one of these in San Antonio presumably at the same chain. Like you, I greatly enjoyed being presented with the moral challenges of showering. It was like one of those games where you're only given a good or evil dialogue choice of saving the villagers from the dragon or killing the innkeeper and taking his money. In my case, the hard water deposits had fused the button permanently into the "evil" position, especially given the months long drought they had been suffering in Texas. But I wanted to save the villagers!

In a similar vein, yesterday I was at a hotel breakfast buffet in Austin where there was sign on each table saying "in order to preserve our precious resources, water service has been suspended, except upon request. Thank you for helping to save our Earth". Obviously this was a lazy attempt at disguising understaffing with eco-claptrap but it seemed amusingly ironic given that it was at a buffet, the most wasteful of dining modes with 100lbs of ice cooling food that would be regularly discarded. I don't understand why they didn't just put out a jug of water like they did with the juice.

Ah, yes. I see this in every hotel in this chain I stay at. The kicker is that the second showerhead is never actually turned off, no matter what the sign says, so you're going to have the guilt of wasting water no matter what.

Given how much I travel and how many signs I've seen over the past 10+ years about saving the environment, I've gotten pretty skeptical and I don't even really read them any longer. I can't help but be skeptical that the hotel cares anything for the environment, but cares only for its bottom line.

But the showerheads are pretty gratuitous -- no one asked for two. Why not replace them with one? (Oh, right, that would cost money.)

RB... the "obviously lazy attempt at disguising understaffing with eco clap-trap" is also known as the law-enforced Stage 2 Water Restrictions in Austin. Welcome to those "exceptional drought" conditions in Texas you mentioned and a municipality trying to do something to conserve water in response. Can't account for the wasteful buffet but your hotel was actually acting in accordance with city restrictions: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/water/stage2wateringrestrictions2011.htm

Thanks all. Glad I'm not the only who found this thing ... striking. (And ockeghem, I think that mine also was actually turned on, both heads, despite the sign -- but I used the indicated button to turn one of the heads off. Thereby, I assume, restoring our world.)
Rob Walker

Ha! A real-life double-headed hydra...
Lisa B. Woods

Before reading, I obviously assumed the two heads are for showering with a friend and your moral dilemma would be whether to engage in this lurid practice or not!
Jen Tank

Jen Tank: I find it is impossible for me to devise a suitable response — but thanks for this comment.
Rob Walker

I've never seen one of these actually installed but I do remember the double shower head featuring prominently in in-flight magazines for a while. That one had a really long neck for the second head. It was sold on the "dual-head" experience - the whole contraption was for dual showerers, although in that case I think the whole thing was just an attachment that fastened on to your regular pipes. In which case you could do the dual-shower-head thing without using additional water, therefore you could "refresh" and "restore" together. Problem solved?

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