Thursday, December 08, 2011

10 Tech Tools I'd Like to Replace with Old Tools

by John T. Spencer

Sometimes people create innovative solutions that seem logical, but end up being a step in the wrong direction. Either the tool is logical but not intuitive or it provides a solution for something that didn't require a solution or it made things easier while taking away autonomy. Regardless of the process, here are ten such tools:

#1: Digital Clock
I prefer analog, not for nostalgia or for beauty. I want to see the progression of time. I want a visual representation of just how close I am to moving toward the next minute. The digital clock doesn't reflect the human need to feel time progress. It is cold, logical and too far removed from the way we sense time naturally.

#2: Alarm Clock
I don't use an alarm clock for a few reasons. First, I want to trust my body. I want my sleep patterns determined by real sleep cycles. It's more than that, though. I want to wake up to silence. I want to begin my day in solitude. The shrieking sound of an alarm clock makes me irritable and panicky.

#3: Faucet
Okay, I know this sounds crazy, but I like the faucets with two handles. I like to control the exact temperature and water pressure. To me this is the classic case of "improving" something by allowing for less human autonomy.

#4: eReaders
I know. I know. I can highlight and tweet it out. It saves my spot automatically. I can jump from book to book. I can use a search function. I can use it on multiple devices. And yet . . . I like the feel of books. I like the way the weight changes as I progress toward the end. I like the asynchronous dialogue that happens when I let someone borrow and write notes in a book.

#5: Cordless Phones
I don't mind being tethered to the kitchen if it means I can find the phone every time it rings. I have a feeling this will only get worse as the kiddos get older, too.

#6: Automatic Transmissions
I drive an automatic right now and it bothers me. I miss the control of the clutch and the gears. The minute I got an automatic, driving became a very detached experience. And a part of me wonders if detachment is the ideal driving method.

#7: Interactive Whiteboards
I like having a white board. I like being able to shine a projector on the white board and then sketching on top of it. Yes, it's less fancy. However, it's multifunctional and I can write on anything without having to change settings, save pictures to a folder, etc. Yes, but one can save a flip chart! True. However, one can also take a quick snapshot of a whiteboard and post it to a blog.

#8: Complicated Remote Controls
I have never, in the process of channel surfing, decided that it would be great to adjust the color contrast, change the sleep function and set the time. It seems like these options ought to be part of a single menu from a single menu button. It's the classic case of offering too many choices when a set of numbers, a volume changer and an up/down button would suffice.

#9: Digital Speedometers
I once had a car with a digital speedometer and it constantly flickered between two numbers. I'd rather gauge my speed quickly and move on.

#10: Thermostat
When I was a kid (back in the days of the Oregon Trail, Culture Club and Trickle-down Economics) the thermostat was simple. One could turn the nob to the exact place. From a design perspective, I wonder if we've made a mistake in replacing knobs with buttons. The knob is faster and more intuitive.

Okay, that's enough. I promise that I'm not always such a curmudgeon.


  1. Awesome. I think you are channeling a little bit of Andy Rooney on this one. :)

  2. well ... I wouldn't give up ebooks for anything short of an apocalypse. But I agree in spirit 10/10

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  4. I enjoyed the list. I remember the thermostat knob on the wall of the house I grew up in, and can even remember needing to stretch my arm way up if I wanted to adjust it.... I'm pretty intrigued with the Nest, a thermostat that seems to try to marry the functional simplicity of the old knob thermostats with the capabilities of one with a computer brain inside:

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