4 Types of Tech Toys That Are Analog, Too


feature image via Engadget

I might be the most analog tech person that ever did tech. Probably it’s not something I should brag about on the internet in my own technology column, but it’s true. I keep a physical planner. I write in a journal. I subscribe to Art Snacks. I have a pretty extreme anxiety about this tension I feel between the need to be simpler, to have tactile things, and then need to move as fast as my brain works, to connect with people around the world. And perhaps I wouldn’t be as forthcoming about it if I didn’t feel like that tension was actually pretty indicative of our generation — those who spent almost their whole childhood with the internet, but who remember a time when they were not constantly connected via smart phone, when Instagram likes meant nothing. In fact, Instagram is a pretty good indicator of this tension — something digital mirroring something analog. Nostalgia for a sepia-toned time meets the instant gratification of today.

I found a couple of things to ease that tension — tools and toys that satisfy the need for both physical and cyberspace.

For Photos

So my fiancée came home with a small, printed photo of her friends embarrassing her on her birthday. When she said that a digital version of the photo exists as well, my ears perked up. Turns out her friend was using a Poloroid Snap ($100), which prints instantly using sticky-backed film (50 for $25) and also saves to a microSD card ($12.50) for social media sharing. I was pretty impressed—they took the photo while singing happy birthday to her in a dark restaurant and it came out recognizable—she was making a face with her hand over her eyes while another friend grinned wildly next to her. Pretty excellent.

If you’d like to use your phone to take the photos, but you’re still craving that analog printing feel, you can get a Fujifilm Instax Share ($123), which allows users to download an app and print wirelessly from their phone. It takes that mini instax film (20 for $12.50) and prints whatever’s on your phone into a tangible object. The app works for iOS and Android.

For Pen and Paper

The Neo Smartpen N2 works ($169) works with special Neo Paper and notebooks (the pro notebook costs $19) to capture your handwritten notes as digital notes in-app. Their technology is behind the recently-released Moleskine set as well. If the idea of proprietary paper rankles you a little, though (as it does me, I have specific requirements of my notebooks), the Wacom Bamboo Spark ($160) might be more your speed. What’s sort of insane, aside from the ability to grab up Rhodia dot-grid notepads, is that Bamboo makes your handwriting into searchable, email-able text. And that’s pretty much everything that’s missing from handwriting. Both gadgets work with iOS and Android.

For Typing

I hate myself for loving the Freewrite, formerly the Hemingwrite, so much. But damn, do I. I know it’s expensive, clocking in at $500. I know. I know it does one thing only — allows you to type. But it takes that single minded focus and puts drafts safely in the cloud. Plus it has the tactile feel of that very physical keyboard — I got to try one at a conference once. Mmmph. If I had some disposable income lying around, I’d totally make it happen.


But if you’re looking to use an existing piece of technology, perhaps the Qwerkywriter is more your deal ($349). The battery lasts for three months (!) and it uses bluetooth connectivity to link up with your tablet — it even has a spot for one — or your computer. It’s gorgeous. I know this category in particular is hipster nonsense, but dammit, as a writer, these two objects are drool-worthy.

For Play

When I thought, well, what is a mixture of meatspace and cyberspace when it comes to playing games, amiibo immediately jumped to mind. I will admit to not fully understanding them at first, because it has been many years since I collected toys. But for those who want the 80’s and 90’s treasure hunt of collecting action figures and trading cards, AND you want those toys and cards to unlock special content for you on your Nintendo systems, then you might want to consider amiibo. They also encourage friend groups to collect together, thereby opening up more avenues for social gaming (though amiibo can save data for one game at a time, so it’s true sharing). And speaking of social gaming—

Ingress is a location-based augmented reality game in which you use your smartphone to detect portals where exotic matter or unknown origin (XM) is leaking into our world. Vie for control over portals as you move about your town or city. Really, this game is just a huge ploy to get people to photograph landmark-y things for Google Maps, but its also a fun and addicting way to bring gaming and walking together. Nothing is more analog than getting out for an actual walk with your actual legs. Player beware, however — this game is LOCATION-based, meaning even though you pick an agent alias, someone might be able to ascertain where you are when you’re hacking portals. Usually I give my usernames on games out to this community, but I’m not gonna this time and I suggest y’all don’t either (though I will say I’m Enlightened). This game, as such, is probably less safe for anyone who’s not a white cis dude, but also the world is less safe for anyone who’s not a white cis dude, so. Let’s just make Ingress hella queer for a hot sec to the degree that we can while prioritizing safety, whether you’re attending a board game meetup you found online or you’re playing a location-based phone game. You can download Ingress for free on iOS and Android.

So what about you—do you feel that tension? How do you deal with it? What do you do in meatspace? What do you keep strictly cyber? Let’s chat about it!

Opportunities Corner

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about my concerns with the hegemony of the tech industry specifically as it relates to the burgeoning sphere of virtual reality. I’ve been banging the drum forever on getting more queer women and non-binary folks into tech — generally, the more representative the creators of a product are of the wide scope of end users, the better the product will be. I’ve decided whenever I get something that sounds like a really cool opportunity but doesn’t quite warrant a post of it’s own (or at least, not yet), I’m going to post it at the bottom of the Queer Your Tech for that week so you don’t miss out. These are specifically for queer women and non-binary folks who are looking for careers or to advance their careers in the tech-o-sphere.

I’d like to once again call your attention to Failbetter’s Fundbetter, which is finishing up its first round of applications in July. From their site:

We’re open-minded on the meaning of ‘narrative’ and ‘game’. So this might include: games with a strong linear storyline; choice-based narratives using Twine or a similar technology; parser-based interactive fiction; strategy games where the choices have a storyful feel; card games where story emerges from the mechanics; or a dozen other things we haven’t thought of.

We particularly like text-centric games. These are often a low-cost, high-leverage way to do something interesting and intelligent with an idea. Text-centric doesn’t mean text-only; but games which involve reading are more our bag.

We’re particularly interested to hear from women applicants, applicants of a black or minority ethnic background, and applicants who are LGBTQIA+.

If you’ve got a proposal for a narrative game, go do the thing!

And I’d also like to congratulate the Lesbians Who Tech community for the successful funding of the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship Fund—because Dev Bootcamp decided to do a $100k match, the fund is now $200k strong, meaning 20 queermos are gonna get to go to a coding bootcamp of their choice. LWT now has an application page up, meaning y’all can run on over and apply! Lesbians Who Tech are, once again, unstoppable. Go team!

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


    • Yes, alpha smarts! Earlier this year I found box of twenty or so of them at the school I teach at. I tried to convince people that we should make the kids use them instead of laptops, no one went for it.

  1. I’ve looked at that Fuji printer, and unfortunately it does not work with their mirrorless cameras(even the wifi enabled ones). The only way to do it to transfer it to your phone and print from there. Maybe they can bring out a model that supports sd so you can print from there, cause that be cool at a party.

  2. How I Deal has less to do with tension and more to do with where my Talents are

    I draw and ink my comics using Traditional Media because they turn out better that way

    Then I scan that Shit, open it in Gimp, fiddle with the contrast to hide left over pencils, make all the white areas transparent, and email it to myself

    … At which point I open it up on my giant Samsung Galaxy Note tablet in an app called artflow that honestly should cost more than it does, considering how fucking amazing it is, and do the colors from there.

    This keeps me from the horror that is Copic Penned colors / colored pencil / water colors that scan TERRIBLY

    I have yet to figure out how some forms of traditional media get photographed or scanned in a way that doesn’t look awful

    Also this way I can test out like 80 different color palettes with no consequences

  3. I started a scrapbook type thing after I moved to Portland, and a lot of it is Instagram pictures that I had printed. I originally downloaded the Walgreens app so I could use it to refill prescriptions and discovered how easy it was to get prints.

    I want the Qwerkywriter! I’ve seen events around here that are basically free-writing on typewriters, and I’ve sadly had to miss them.

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