Technological meltdown

What's wrong with a light switch?

Words: Lee Tulloch

I have light switch rage.

I don’t know why this is so, but given how much expense and time goes into creating hotel rooms, you’d think they’d get a light switch right.

In fact, I’m positively over the moon when I discover a hotel room has a simple flick up and down switch. It’s not these old fashioned switches that are the problem. It’s the hi-tech console by the bed kind of switch I hate, the ones that don’t come without a manual, yet, in most cases, absolutely require one.

You know the scenario: you’re shown to your room by a guest relations manager and they give you a speedy demonstration of the technical aspects of the room, from TV remote to air conditioning. It all sounds so simple and user-friendly, but as soon as the manager closes the door behind herself, and you try to adjust the air-conditioning, there seems to be no way to nudge the little plus or minus sign up or down. After several minutes of fruitless enterprise, including calling downstairs for further instructions, you conclude nothing less than a dark magic art is required to stop the AC blasting arctic air.

It’s the same with the TV remote. It’s stuck on the  ‘welcome’ page of the hotel’s own channel and any attempt to move it on send you back to a screen with unintelligible words starting with V or P and no way to get off it, even if you turn the whole thing off to reset its ‘brain.’

Hotel TVs don’t have brains, I’ve concluded. The last one I experienced had a very advanced mechanism whereby it turned to follow you around the room, except that I clearly was a phantom emitting no microwaves for it turned in precisely the same direction I was not. I had to lift it up and turn it towards me every time I wanted to view it.  The whole experience was very Mon Oncle, set to that interminable ‘spa’ music that hotel TVs emit.

Nothing less than a dark magic art is required to stop the AC blasting arctic air.

But all this is small potatoes compared to the light switch issue. I suppose this gets me maddest because there was a perfectly fine solution to our lighting problems introduced in 1917 when a man called William Newton invented the toggle switch. The simple dimmer switch might have been an improvement on that, but as far as I can see, everything else is a complication.

Most hated by me is the wave-you-hand-over-the-console type of light ‘enabler’. This is the kind that thrills guest relations managers right down to their sensible black pumps as they airily demonstrate what can be done at the wave of a hand – turning off the bathroom light, lowering the blackout blinds over the windows and turning on the ‘do not disturb’ sign without having to get off the bed.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to work those restroom taps where you’re required to rub your hands under the faucet before the water appears. I’m always left soaped-up with nowhere to go.  It’s the same with the magic consoles. I wave my hand and nothing happens. Invariably. Or if it’s a touch-screen, I touch it and the wrong thing happens, which I can’t then undo. When you’re exhausted at the end of a day walking around Rome you want some dolce vita, not an hour spent manically stabbing at a screen to get the room to go dark so you can sleep.

The worst example of this was in a lovely tropical paradise, which boasted new German-design villas with the latest in high-tech features. The lighting and the blinds were controlled by a large panel on the wall next to the bed, with big blue illuminated buttons to operate the functions. Trouble was, when you got the main lights to go off, the blue illuminations were so bright they turned the room into a disco. As the panel was flat, there was no way to simply throw a towel over it, so I spent half the night devising a cover using a T-shirt and electrical tape (being married to a photographer is useful.)

Occasionally a hotel, like the Peninsula Hong Kong, gets its technology right, but for the most part I believe the inventors of these things should be tied to the bed and made to try them themselves, rather like Malcolm McDowell was strapped to the aversion therapy machine in A Clockwork Orange.

As for me, these days I always travel with an eye mask.

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