Gone are the good ole days when all you had to tackle in hotels, which involved application of astuteness and agility, were the timer switches which lit up corridors for 20 or 30 seconds – you invariably ended by making a dash for it. It must have been a good feeling – saving electricity and all – but it left in its wake a lot of guests, including my dad, floundering in the dark, groping their way out through appliances and anatomies of the housekeeping staff. Today the corridors light up on their own – all you have to do is emerge from the lift. In some places they flicker to life along the route you chose to take – some sort of sensory technology. I like this one for it makes me feel like Moses: just imagine the flanking walls as whooshing water. Apparently this stuff which I find exceedingly wondrous is so basic that the industry itself does not classify it under ‘smart.’ What they call ‘smart’ today is something more – the whole gamut of housekeeping and checkout services over WeChat, smartphones as smart keys, minibars with auto detection, high definition carpets…
Sometime ago I had a brief but enlightening introduction to a few of these technical farrago – enlightening for it made me realise that I wasn’t really as smart as I thought. Hey, don’t get me wrong here – this is not a polemic against the hugely innovative but largely meaningless strides made by man but is rather an apology on behalf of some not being able to keep up. While the regnant trend in the hospitality industry today is ‘just can’t app enough’ I am someone who just needs a place to keep my chattel and a pillow for my head. Give me a bathrobe and you will find me in not much else the duration of the stay. This modish business hotel where I stayed had a lot of features that brought me enthusiastically up and embarrassingly close and personal with some smart stuff in vogue today.
Disclaimer: Besides confessing to a low intellect, I must also say that I don’t really find much use for those mirrors which makes zits look as big as baby faces. To effectively keep my nose hair in place I need to see it in the context of my nose and not as some magical spinifex growing out of thin air; I mean I will stick to the regular bathroom mirror.
The smart key: This one proved its smartness right from the lift itself – all I had to make the lift operational and stop on the right floor was swipe it across a blinking blue light straight out of a starship console. And once in the room it did everything: the lights came on in all the right places, the air condition hummed to a discreet life, the television blinked to a standby, activated the closet lights. I mean everything just short of singing me a lullaby or enquire politely if I needed a date for the evening. The smart key also rightly predicted me a security threat: it allowed the lift to stop only on my own floor as well as the top floor restaurant. To go a friend’s room on a different floor I decided to take the stairway. Trying to push open the landing door set off the alarm and left me with a lot of explaining to do.
The smart glass: Now the only thing I can think of behind this innovation is an imagined conversation between the hotel builder and the architect.
Architect: ‘The view from the room is pretty awful. Our guests will have a problem paying this kind of money and open the blinds to half naked children with baked snots and pigs rolling in poo.’
Builder: ‘What do you suggest I do? Wipe their snot? Buy their pigs?…which we do already…’
Architect: ‘You have to keep your guests engaged within the room itself. Give him enough stuff to keep his gaze within the four walls of the room.’
Builder: ‘The television has around 1,000 channels already and we will soon be taking Netflix…’
Architect: ‘The evolved crowd my dear sir, do not watch television anymore. They bring their own content.’
Builder: ‘What are you suggesting then?’
The architect then goes on to put the smart glass in place – with the flick of a switch you can cloud up the transparent glass panel partitioning the toilet and shower cubicle from the rest of the bedroom. I found this feature thoroughly usable, enjoyable even. I played with the switch while I showered, imagining a steamy foreplay. The catch was that it was up to me only to play the voyeuristic, kinky partner as well.
The smart clock: Needless to say I had to summon housekeeping for many little things – from adjusting the room temperature which just kept going back to a preset degree – probably an ontological call some app made for my optimal existence. Even to control the curtain blinds which seemed to decide from which height and angle I had to view the world outside. Over those few days I became pally with most of housekeeping. They might have been drawing lots to decide on the next one among them to have ‘fun with the dork.’
“Sir it happens all the time,” they kept assuring me good-naturedly. “Even our regular guests are only getting used to some of the features.”
“Can you help me with the alarm clock?” I asked them on the last night, there was an early morning flight to catch and my head was floating. “I can’t find the buttons to set it.”
“Sir, why don’t you ask the reception for a wake-up call?” They asked. Probably they had enough of me or had found another source of mirth – a more likely reason as earlier that evening I espied a bunch of white-clad politicians in the lobby checking in. Whatever I was glad to find that some things could still be done the old fashioned way.
All I had to do now was figure which icon represented the reception – the bust with a line cleaving across it or the line with a bust toppling from it or the one with arms flailing.