Was 2011 a ‘Terrible Year for Tech?’

How can you resist an article with a title like “2011 Was a Terrible Year for Tech?” Really? Well, that’s the opinion of Slate’s technology writer Farhad Manjoo, who dares to use the dreaded “e” word: “In 2011 the entire tech ecosystem descended toward entropy.”

Manjoo’s complaint—and it’s one that may resonate for you in both your personal and professional life—is that as several tech giants compete for our attention, we’re losing any hope of achieving simplicity.

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.

Manjoo correctly points out that the “main problem is that the tech business is in a period of transition between yesterday’s PCs and tomorrow’s mobile machines.” Microsoft used to rule the roost, but now Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook–and Microsoft, too– are all battling on our desktops and in our hands, and full compatibility isn’t in their competitive interests.

Perhaps, he says, there’s some hope in the cloud, where apps like the wildly popular Dropbox create a storage spot for your “stuff” that’s accessible by any Web-connected gadget.

Is this the direction we’re heading, and will we head there for both work and play? As more of us use our personal devices for work, these issues magnify and, yes, IT could have a terrible 2012 if it doesn’t start setting up some rules and procedures for how we’re going to get our work done in this tumultuous and competitive environment.