An Answer For Issues With 'Lavatory Logistics' At Outdoor Events

Mar 2, 2014
Originally published on March 1, 2014 6:08 pm

The online magazine Ozy covers people, places and trends on the horizon. Co-founder Carlos Watson joins All Things Considered regularly to tell us about the site's latest feature stories.

This week, Watson talks with Arun Rath about an app that's bringing the community hospitality model to the bathroom. They also talk about a project that's made reading a full-body experience and sparked a conversation about the future of books.

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It's time for The New and The Next.


RATH: Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine Ozy. Each week, he joins us to talk about what's new and what's next. Welcome back, Carlos.

CARLOS WATSON: Arun, good to see you in person this time.

RATH: Yeah. Nice to have you actually here in the studio with us.

WATSON: I like it. I like being in L.A.

RATH: So Mardi Gras is coming up on Tuesday. And, well, let's start off. Here's a little Mardi Gras music with a particularly Mardi Gras problem.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Ain't no place to pee on Mardi Gras day, Mardi Gras day. Ain't no place to pee on Mardi Gras day...

RATH: And you're hearing right. He's saying there ain't no place to pee on Mardi Gras day, which, it is a problem. It's a crowded place, not a lot of public bathrooms. But there's a technological fix in the works.

WATSON: Indeed, there is. You know, more than a million people show up at Mardi Gras - more arrests, than anything, for public urination. And so, of course, two young millennials show up and say we've got an idea. It's called AirPnP. And, of course, it's a little bit of a play on Airbnb, the very successful business in which people rent out rooms in their homes to travelers.

What they say is, look, a lot of people need a bathroom. There aren't a lot of facilities, porta-potties are fewer in supply, and so would you be willing to rent out access to your porcelain god? You know, turn Mardi Gras for a little penny. So they created an app, which just launched a week ago and is doing incredibly well. So how do you like that for a little New Orleans genius?

RATH: So you go and you pay, I'm assuming, to use the facilities. And then do you rate it like a uber car or...

WATSON: Without a doubt. All the good stuff's in there, and there's proper sharing economy. So you pay a buck or two or three, or if it's high demand, who knows what you could end up paying? And it's actually really interesting to think about how that could spread to other places where there are big festivals. You know, who knows?

RATH: Now, I can see the demand for this, but it'd be hard for me to imagine wanting to open my bathroom to a Mardi Gras reveler.

WATSON: Yeah. You know, so it...

RATH: I might charge a premium for that.

WATSON: You'd - yeah. It makes you wonder a little bit. And we could have all sorts of interesting interactions between people, right? And bathroom cleanliness is always an issue for any public facility. So we'll see how long this lasts. But certainly creative, huh? Little bold. Little interesting.

RATH: Yeah.


RATH: So another new technology - this one is still in the testing phase, though. The kids at MIT have come up with a different kind of electronic book.

WATSON: No doubt about it. So a trio said that books are often about sparking emotion, stimulating all sorts of feelings. And so they said what if we helped that along a little bit? And, of course, they're at MIT, so it involves technology. And so they've basically added a book and a vest. And involved in the vest and the book are certain sensors and even kind of a little heart stimulator so that if the character in the book starts to feel sad, maybe you feel a little cold, a little sad.

If the character is under stress, you know, all of a sudden, you know, the book may vibrate or the vest may vibrate. It's kind of the natural successor to what's going on with video games.

RATH: Ha. And I can see that's just the sort of thing that I imagine the kids at the MIT labs working on.

WATSON: Right. Yeah, of course, sensory fiction. But here's one of the things, Arun, I thought was very interesting: they've only created a prototype. They say they're not taking it commercial because more than anything - at the moment, at least - they say they want to spark debate about this question. It's certainly already - if you look at some of the comments that we got on our site - we certainly had people who said, well, that's dumb. Why, you know, the whole point of being an author is that you successfully stimulate emotion. Why do we want someone else to play with it?

But certainly is a conversation even in surround sound movies and movies that have some kind of smell as part of it in certain parts of the world. People are toying with that.

RATH: Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine Ozy. You can explore all the stories we talked about at Carlos, thanks again.

WATSON: Arun, really good to see you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.