Monday, March 19, 2012

Complexity 3

But then, this year, all that simplicity was tossed out the window. It was a terrible year for tech. In 2011 nearly every gadget or service that I use on a regular basis picked up new features that made it more frustrating to deal with. Everywhere I looked, I saw feature creep, platform wars, competing media standards, and increasingly chaotic user interfaces. Complexity appeared in places where I’ve come to expect it—like Facebook, which, as usual, added a blizzard of overlapping, sometimes secret features—but also in longtime havens for normals, like the Mac operating system. In Lion, Apple’s latest OS, there are so many ways to download and launch apps—not to mention a new, full-screen app interface that renders everything you thought you knew about how to get around your Mac pretty much useless, and introduces a host of inconsistent swipe gestures—that even if you dare to install it, you’d be wise to ignore everything new.

But it’s not just that individual products got more difficult to use; in 2011 the entire tech ecosystem descended toward entropy. Devices and services had a harder time playing together, and simply choosing what to use became an occasion for a flowchart. Some of the simplest tech questions—How should I send a text message to a friend? Which video phone service should I use?—are now hopelessly fraught.

Say you’re looking to watch movies and TV shows online. Should you subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, cable, satellite, or something else altogether? The correct answer is: It depends. There are now so many variables that affect this simple decision—How much TV do you watch? Do you prefer old stuff or new stuff? Are there specific shows you’re into? Do you like live TV?—that it could take you a couple hours of research to arrive at your answer. Worse, however deeply you research the question, you’re unlikely to find everything you want from a single service. In the tech industry today, trade-offs rule. There are lots of almost-great ways to get stuff you want, but perfection is elusive. And it will remain that way for several years, at least.

The Year's Worst Trend: Complexity (Slate)

"Congress is endlessly complex, because complexity can be a useful tool in wielding power without scrutiny."

Matt Stoller: Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals (Naked Capitalism)

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