Simple Tools Foster Complex Uses

Been thinking about an observation from @dwalbert, about a castle in France being built using only medieval tools and techniques: “Simple tools foster complex patterns of use, while complex tools…” (via @dwalbert and @jabel,

A stone cutter in the video mentioned that he had to use his brain a lot more than his muscles. He had to listen for distinct sounds, a certain timbre, as he tapped to form the break. He had to use tacit knowledge, knowledge gained only through physical experience.

The same is true for paper. Paper is a true thinking tool. As physical tools, pens and paper help the human thinking process.

We don’t only think with our brains. We think with our feet (walking is a time-honored way to work out ideas).

We also think with our hands.

We get all kinds of nonverbal feedback and impressions from something like physically drawing a line on a piece of paper.

With pen and paper, I can:

  • set up a budget
  • create checklists
  • draw
  • record contact information
  • make notes
  • write books
  • send messages
  • work out a problem
  • keep a calendar
  • create diagrams
  • create thinking tools like mind maps, flow charts, and pros and cons lists
  • create notes for public speaking

Now, I also use a lot of apps. I have to use a lot of apps. No single app exists, that can do everything one can do with paper.

I can’t use my contact management app, for managing my budget.

But with a notebook, I could do both.

Are apps more efficient? Sometimes, sure. Other times I spend hours dealing with balky software; or getting sidetracked by all the other things more interesting than, say, updating a budget.

Increasingly, I’m pulling out a notebook and a pen, to see if it actually helps me do the work better.


Friends build real castle from scratch with simple tools only (2022). Available at: (Accessed: 1 September 2022).

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