Image: Estwing Weight Forward Hammer
It doesn't require computing power to drive in a nail, just muscle, coordination and a well-made hammer.
updated 4/19/2005 6:48:16 PM ET 2005-04-19T22:48:16

We live in an age where most people think that it is possible to improve a product, any product, by simply slapping a microchip into it.

We disagree.

To be sure, there are many items — cameras, toasters, stereos, refrigerators, clocks, telephones, sailboats and airplanes — that have benefited from the inclusion of a little digital technology. The computer, for example, was born in the pre-digital age but would never have become the ubiquitous tool it did if the integrated circuit hadn't been invented in 1959. After all, the first computers were room-size contraptions powered by vacuum tubes.

Some items, such as the Palm Pilot or iPod, would never have existed without a microchip. What is truly impressive, however, is how many everyday tools in use around the world were designed well before the digital age.

A proper appreciation for the revolution of digital technology lies in understanding its limitations as well as its strengths. It is actually far easier to glue a circuit board onto a device and call it an innovation than it is to engineer and manufacture a product to maximize its quality and utility — or to leave well enough alone once you've built a thing that works perfectly. Today it seems as though the elegance and utility of these analog devices are all too frequently overlooked or taken for granted.

Of course, there are some things — Amati violins, a well-cut suit, a pair of Regency armchairs — that defy age and technology. For the most part, though, those are works of art, not commoditized products that can for the most part be bought at the nearest shopping center or over the Internet.

The reason for looking at these analog devices is not only to champion these pedestrian though brilliant manifestations of design but also to remind people that technology doesn't always improve things.

Here are ten products that run against the grain of this column's usual coverage — they are gadgets that have no LCD displays or built-in hard drives, no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity; they have no plugs and they never need recharging. These are, nonetheless, simple marvels of design, mechanics and engineering. Best of all, you don't need to plug them in, and you never have to worry about running out of batteries.

Click here to start the slide show.

© 2012


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