Private Acts in Public Spaces: Toilet Texting and Multi-Tasking


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I’ve never been a fan of public toilets. It’s not fear, exactly, although I was raised in an age of “stranger danger!” and have a cultural inclination to look warily at people in enclosed spaces. Too many reel to reel “educational” films in junior high: I’m not sure how much algebra I remember, but I know that strangers who ask for help are, evidently, all perverts. (I was equally traumatized by an anti-fighting film that showed, in graphic detail, a bus crash. I still cringe when I see kids riding yellow school buses.)

I suspect I’m also guilty of seeing too many of those 1970s B-films, usually late at night when the house is creaking, the dog is barking, and my imagination is racing. Let’s face it: bad stuff happens in bathrooms after dark. (They also happen around chainsaws, two story houses on the corner, and with little rich kids whose heads spin around. You should also never tease that kid whose eyes go two different directions. Or people who live in the deep south and use “peckerwood” regularly in sentences.) I highly recommend cloth shower curtains so when they wrap up your body, you can still breathe.

I would also guess there is some deep-rooted psychological issue regarding body parts, waste, and privacy. Maybe I was potty-trained in public or mocked for peeing in the pool. Doesn’t matter to me: I’m quite comfortable with my phobias and neurosis and I value pottying in private.

Because of this irrational fear of being locked in the bathroom with a maniacal killer and a corresponding disgust with publicly shared bodily functions, I am amazed (and a little freaked out) that 75% of Americans admit to using their smartphones while on the toilet. According to the 11mark survey,

Toilet texting is particularly popular among those 28 to 35-years-old, with a reported 91 percent of that age group admitting to the habit.
Even more disturbing, 1 in 5 men admit to taking it a step further by phoning into business meetings from the bathroom. But they aren’t alone; 13 percent of women also owned up to joining conference calls from the can.


Whatever happened to reading the sports section? Carving phone numbers of people you don’t like on the walls? Writing bad poetry? Or just good, old fashioned vandalism?

Clearly, we are raising a generation that has grown up in houses with two bathrooms and no sister or parents pounding on the door. Chalk another bad habit up to disposable income and comfortable living. I’m sure that much of this toilet texting (so poetic) occurs in the comfort of one’s own throne room, but raise your hand if you’ve often suspected the person on the other end of the phone (or in the stall next to you) was, in fact, taking care of business while taking care of business if you know what I mean. (Don’t raise your hand if you are the guilty party. Lord knows, you probably need both of hands right now since the same study says 16% of phones have fecal matter on them. Can I just say–Eww?)

When my children were little, we were lucky enough that my wife was able to stay home with both boys. I would get out of the house for work by 6:30 or so but try to get home again by 5:00 at the latest. That might seem like a long day for me, but for those of you who have stayed home with kids, that can be a longer day at the house. Often without a bathroom break. Many a day I walked in the door not to the sound of “Hi, Honey. How was your day?” but to the bathroom door slamming shut, the click of the lock, followed by a long sigh.

Justifiably so. The bathroom, that place dedicated to personal hygiene, has its own special place in American lore. Certainly, the invention of the water closet was designed for sanitary reasons and convenience. Early dwellings had shared bathrooms. The advent of single dwelling housing accessible to the middle class, though, opened the door for a throne within the proverbial castle. The bathroom, quite simply, became a place of solitude where we could perform that most human of functions in privacy. Civilization at its finest.

But now we’ve come full circle. Our phone, ever present tool of our work lives and increasingly a lifeline to our social selves, has invaded that most sacred of places–the last bastion of privacy where, quite frankly, only our small children would ever want to follow us. We are inviting our friends, neighbors, and co-workers into our private space, refusing to take even a fraction of the day for ourselves and our bodies. Bathrooms, at a certain point in time, allowed us to compartmentalize our lives. We created houses with separate rooms dedicated to specific functions. Bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, and most importantly, a room dedicated to the expulsion of human waste. We could emerge with our bowels voided, body cleansed, and physically refreshed. Instead, we are increasingly multi-tasking, relegating that physical cleansing to one task among many and turning our private space into a public arena. And we wonder why we are so stressed out?

Thank god we don’t have 4 d smart phones and the first time someone toilet skypes me . . .


About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

4 Responses to Private Acts in Public Spaces: Toilet Texting and Multi-Tasking

  1. Yahooey says:

    I’ll take the phone with me when I am at work … to read and only for reading; I ignore all incoming calls and texts; however, its a lot more discreet than walking in with the sports section 🙂

  2. We are not just raising a generation with two bathrooms, we’re also raising one that is incapable of having a few moments of silent contemplation and quiet (depending on what you had for lunch that day), without feeling weird. It’s like they wonder: if a passing thought does not get texted or tweeted, does it really exist? That’s the more metaphysical aspect of taking your phone to the bathroom… the physical aspect of course, is it’s gross ;).

  3. Joyce says:

    Well in all fairness, that is the only time that some of us can fit in a round of Words With Friends.

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