Great news: a Sydney student has invented a toilet-door handle that radiates itself with UV light, killing all the nomadic germs which populate it. This really does come as great news on a Sunday morning, but as a germaphobe myself – isn’t this young inventor only doing me and other germaphobes alike more harm; by feeding our growing obsession with germs?
Although it keeps me up at night and I grow grey hairs over it, I can’t continue living in denial like this: I’m covered in germs and so are you. Everything we touch is a germ-infested colony (I can feel my heart-accelerating now as I dance my fingers along my keyboard). Our only hope for immunity is exposure – our bodies need to practice resisting these germs in order to fight them off. That’s why toddlers lick the pavement – these young soldiers tackle germ warfare head-on, albeit naively, because they know they need to get match-ready for life.
Older and wiser specimens, such as myself, know better and instead, we try to avoid germs altogether. Call me a coward if you will, but I would rather enter battle with these assailants, equipped with the right weapons: my armory is home to 98% effective antibacterial wipes that will exterminate colonies from any household surface. And that sounds terrific but what about that other 2% that are left? These are the germs that are resistant to my antibacterial wipes. And then what? They will inevitably recolonise the fertile empty plains of my desk with their own super-strong iron-clad progeny. Worse still: Darwinian natural selection tells me that with each wipe, I’m helping to build a better bug.
As with any phobia, my fear of germs is mildly irrational. I’m well aware that outside of my fumigated, bio-secure home, I’m not resistant to all the outside germs, lurking behind their military trenches. I’m not a germ-fearing-lunatic but this expanding antibacterial, anti-germ, anti-filth industry has definitely added a significant amount of burden to my thought-process before coming into contact with a petrol pump handle.
Germ phobia really is just another part of this hyper-individualism, which is taking over; this idea that it’s possible to sculpt a life that is separate to other people. Living in germ-resistant solitude is the equivalent of living in a gated community. Both lifestyles offer the same guarantee of safety, i.e. none.
I’ve noticed that it’s also a strange and fearful lense through which to view the world and it’s all a bit silly isn’t it? The compulsion to try and open a door with your foot to avoid touching the door handle, using your elbow to press the button of pedestrian lights. Is it worth all the public humiliation and personal inconvenience?
All you need to really do is wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water – I know that. But now there’s even a campaign against soap! Hygiene specialists/marketing manipulators now recommend liquid soap; that way you can avoid the germs left on bars of soap by previous users. Germs on soap? Does that mean that I need a second soap to soap the first soap before I use it as soap?
Naturally, it’s the job of advertisers to prey on our insecurities. They prod us until we feel fat and ugly to sell diets and cosmetics; they wrinkle their noses to remind us that we’re smelly and unappealing so as to sell anti-perspirant and perfume and they insist that a kitchen without an arsenal of anti-bacterial products is like a chemical weapons plant, leaking toxins.
My latest war strategy: well, I’d like to wash my hands of the lot of them.