The War of Simplexity with Modern-Day Gadgetry

We are at war! At war with simplexity — this is where modern day devices are experiencing an identity crisis over their function and form.

Gadgets these days are all over the spectrum as far as complexity and simplicity are concerned, and we can’t figure it out, the people that make them can’t figure it, and even the gadgets themselves can’t figure it out. It’s a confusing situation.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Tools, as we all know, started off as simple machines. Imagine a hammer or a wheel — they served, in majority of cases, a single use: to bash things in or to roll things on. These tools were efficient and effective. They didn’t need to do multiple things; they needed to do a single thing, and they needed to do it right.

However, with the advent of more complex machines — like the printing press — things became more complex. Tools were starting to be designed to solve multiple problems at once. The industrial revolution set off an amazing time period where mechanical devices were designed to do the things we previously did, and they were effective at it.

In recent years, computers started off as simple machines — performing miniscule calculations with maybe a few blinking lights. There wasn’t much you could do with them.

However, we all know that computers became more complex over time, from blinking lights to 3D-rendering powerhouses, and in the ’90s, computers were, for the most part, as complex as can be. They were becoming more accessible and affordable, and new software and hardware was constantly coming out. But software and hardware design was inconsistent and messy.

One only needs to take a look at the success of the Video Professor to understand this.

Here is the point: if it isn’t apparent by now, there is a pattern. There is a pattern of simplicity and complexity that is reoccurring. The theory of Simplexity proves that this happens — there is a constant battle between the different ends of the spectrum, and, as civilization advances, the desire for one or the other becomes prevalent.

The current trend for the past several years is that we desire more simplicity in our lives, and this trend is continuing. We don’t want 50 buttons on our remote controls. We want as few as possible. We don’t want complicated interfaces. We want a clean and simple one. We don’t want to follow hundreds of Web sites. We want a select few.

The products and companies that align themselves with this mentality are the ones that are succeeding today. In that sense, you could say that Apple represents simplicity and Microsoft represents complexity, and it is quite true in numerous regards.

Guess which of these companies in the public’s favor right now?

Apple, of course. It’s common sense.

Nowadays, consumers are — quite literally — willing to give up control of many things in order to achieve simplicity, and Apple is the company that has total control over its products (and Steve Jobs certainly doesn’t mind that control). For instance, the days of building your own computer are becoming numbered as companies like Apple and Google seemingly want more control of the user experience. That’s why we don’t have heavily modifiable laptops — it would be too complex.

This is the future that lies ahead. This is the future we will live: platforms will become more controlling, systems will become simpler and closed, and freedoms will be lost (at least until the hackers crack the system).

It could be good. It could be bad. No one can know for sure.

Eventually, though, people are going to get tired of that control, and a new direction will appear: a direction heading back towards complexity and openness. The future Microsofts of the world will be those who are the most praised for there efforts.

This begs the question of what direction gadgets and systems of the future will take? Will they be further simplified, to become one-use solutions to problems with control being given up? Will they be made more complex to enable more openness at the expense of current trends?

It is quite interesting to note that the time periods of change in preference are closing. As technological revolutions occur faster and faster, the behavior towards these systems change as well.

It’s simply complicated.

Will there ever be a definitive answer?

Nope. There can’t be, and trust us when we say that our gadgets (and the consumers) are better for it.

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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  • agathis

    We don’t want to follow hundreds of websites? What crack are you smoking? Of course we do.

    And people like Apple now because they are consumerist lemmings, led by media buzz about lousy Apple products that they don’t even fully understand.

    People want simplicity in some things, and complexity in others. Which is why Microsoft still dominates on the desktop (and laptop), and Apple has never been able to crack into that market (despite banging its head against the wall trying to do so for almost thirty years). You act as if there is a singular tech trend. You must be completely blind. Or stuck in your Apple-loving echo chamber. In the real world, people use a mix of complicated and simple solutions as needed. It’s never a single trend.