The telephone sanitizer in Douglas Adams
book and radio series was provided as a textbook example
of a useless occupation
. The idea was that the Golgafrinchans
realized that a substantial portion of their population was completely useless
, and so they got rid of them by making up a story of impending planetary catastrophe and sending them ahead on a space ark
that was supposedly
the first of several. (This is similar to the trick that the Tallest
play on the useless Irkan Invader
, in the first episode of Invader Zim
.) The joke turned out to be on the Golgafrinchans, however, when they were wiped out by a plague
contracted from a horribly dirty telephone
The telephone sanitizer was clearly meant to be a humorously-exaggerated example of sheer uselessness--perhaps the most useless occupation that Adams could possibly conceive--so as to depict the others with whom the telephone sanitizers shared the ship (advertising executives and hairstylists and lawyers and so forth) as being even more useless (and annoying) than their popular stereotypes. This being the case, it is strangely ironic to consider that Cornell scientists discovered in 1997 that many public surfaces--ATM keypads, computer lab keyboards, doorknobs, bus handholds, and, yes, public telephones--were contaminated with a whole host of virulent and nasty disease-causing microorganisms.
So, perhaps a telephone sanitizer might not be so useless after all.