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When it comes to creating a new technology, you need to sell a vision to attract the resources you need (people, investment, etc.).
Hype can act like glue. It can create a shared vision pulling the actors in the same direction and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One important component of hype is thus a set of promises of what the technology can achieve in the future for us.
These might range from solving a particularly annoying problem to creating new markets, making heaps of money, or even revolutionizing a whole field and changing society as a whole.
Hype moves on a scale from overpromising to overselling, and even irrational exuberance.
Today‘s tech industry is obsessed with the big futures. The metaverses, the next internets — you name it. Hype is everywhere, oozing out of the headlines of news articles, growing like mould all over the LinkedIn feed, and blinking at me whenever I open my inbox.
But hype is not always the same; there are different forms and levels.
The following categorization is intended to help people better understand which form of hype they‘re confronted with.
This is your standard marketing speak. They‘re focused on what existing technology can do for you almost immediately. Though exaggerated, they‘re still grounded in reality.
Marketing claims work on an immediate time scale, meaning whatever they promise can be realized almost instantly. The technology already exists.
Here the effects and impact of existing technology are greatly exaggerated and oversold but still informed by its real capabilities. The focus lies on the returns to come by investing now.
These claims oversell the present capabilities of technology, often skirting the line to fraud.
A good example might be tesla selling their driving assistance systems as “full self-driving”
The technology is the key to a utopian future or the avoidance of a dystopic one. Claims are solely focused on the “potential” of the technology, less its benefits in the present.
Here the focus of the hype is solely on the future, though the time-scale is still concrete, promising the technology will arrive at a fixed time from now.
Example: Carbon capture technology, though it already exists in the form of prototypes, it‘s still in its infancy
The technology has left grounded reality and takes on magical properties. The problems it is expected to solve simply by existing are growing in number and scale while criticism gets ignored as minor hurdles, to be overcome soon.
With magical thinking concrete predictions are becoming less and less important, though the development might still be expected at a fixed date.
Example: the blockchain industry, which has been overselling the capabilities of the technology for years — pitching it as a solution to every imaginable societal problem and challenge.
The technology has become a group identity for its boosters. Claims are exclusively utopian, and critics are painted as defenders of the old, to be left behind.
This is the most aggressive and annoying form of hype. Notably, the time of arrival is less important at this level, simply that the technology will arrive at some point in the future.
Example: The cryptocurrency scene which has been pretty good at othering critics as “no-coiners” or with the phrase “have fun staying poor”.
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