Modern technology is pretty incredible. The things we can do with our phones are mind-blowing—or would be if we weren’t so used to their power and flexibility. And it’s not just apps—from thermostats to tuning forks, traditional physical and analogue tools have been replaced with sleek digital substitutes.
Many digital tools offer advantages over the old versions. If nothing else, they’re often more convenient to use, and offer extra capabilities that our forefathers could only dream about. It’s tempting to just throw all the tools and stuff you inherited from older generations into the trash and replace it all with shiny new digital stuff.
And in many cases you probably should give in to that temptation. But there are exceptions, still. No matter how powerful these five digital tools become, you’re still better off using the old analogue versions.
Rulers and tape measures
When it comes to measuring things, you have a number of digital choices. There are apps on your phone that claim to measure stuff for you, and a plethora of digital and laser measuring devices at your local hardware store. So why would you stick to a physical ruler or tape measure?
In a word, accuracy. Any app you download onto your phone that claims it can measure stuff for you should be used for entertainment purposes only—yes, it’ll get you a rough idea of a measurement, but it won’t be something you can actually use in a project. And while digital measuring tapes using ultrasound or lasers to measure distances are accurate enough for casual use (typically within 1/16th or 1/8th of an inch depending on the model), a high-quality traditional steel tape measure is typically accurate to within 0.1 millimeters. Add in the durability of a simple tape measure and the fact that it doesn’t require electricity to use, and you’ve got a no-brainer.
Making sure things are level and plumb is a basic requirement for any project or repair around the house. The first time you “eyeball” something like a bookshelf or piece of framing is probably also the last time you do it. And an old-school spirit level of some kind is cheap, durable, and super, super reliable.
To be fair, digital levels can be incredibly accurate if you buy a high-quality model, and they have one advantage over spirit levels: They display the results in a much more readable format than squinting at a vial of liquid while sweat runs into your eyes. Reading a physical level isn’t very hard, though, and not having to ensure your level is powered up before using it—a spirit level can hang in your toolshed for decades and still be usable—renders that advantage into the slight category.
Don’t get me wrong—digital books are incredible innovations, and there are many use cases where an e-book shines. But if you’re using a book as a tool to gain knowledge and learn about a subject, an analogue, printed book is a better choice for several reasons:
- More active engagement. Print books encourage more active engagement with material, while screens encourage a more passive experience.
- Stronger connections. The tactile nature of paper actually helps our brains make connections with what we’re reading, and the ease of flipping pages back and forth helps us cement concepts on the fly.
- Better comprehension. Reading print books offers enhanced levels of reading comprehension.
Being able to carry 500 books onto the plane with you is a superpower, no doubt. But if you want to learn something faster and more thoroughly, get the print version.
There was a time when using your phone or tablet to take notes during meetings or in classes made you look cutting-edge and cool. And it’s easy to see why people thought being able to tap their notes and thoughts into their devices would be a huge step forward: No more forgetting your pen, no more running out of paper, no more random notes scattered all over the place. Now everything would be neatly organized.
Instead, you wind up with a million digital files all named NOTES.PDF—and a much less effective note-taking experience. Studies have shown that the act of writing notes down increases our brain activity and improves our memory of the subject, event, or meeting we’re taking notes on. Taking notes by hand also offers the opportunity to filter and reflect on your notes if and when you transfer them to a digital format—you can link notes together and delete notes that don’t seem pertinent instead of simply plowing digital notes into storage en masse.
Linked to the benefits of taking notes by hand, skip the digital planners and time management tools and use pen and paper. In addition to the better retention and engagement you get simply by using a pen and physical paper, using a printed planner instead of a digital tool offers flexibility: You can organize your time and set reminders literally any way you like instead of being trapped in an app’s rigid system.
Using a print planner offers another advantage over a digital tool with all the bells and whistles: Stress reduction. Organizing and reflecting on your life and the tasks you need to get done can have an incredibly calming effect. Compare the zen-like experience of quietly writing out the week’s meetings and deadlines to the cacophony of alerts, alarms, and popups offered by a digital app, and you can understand why.
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