Do you like new technology? Chances are that if you’re reading this space, you do. I like new technology too.
I don’t like hype as much. I get suspicious when people go out of their way to inflate expectations deliberately in advance of a promise that they know, full well, it can’t deliver.
Whether you’re buying for yourself, your home, or your organization, you want to invest in technology that’s likely to have a return, but not such a diminished return that you derive absolutely no competitive advantage or learning from it. There’s a balance there between the fear of losing too much and the greed of unfair advantage.
To understand why these feeling develop, it helps to understand why people try to induce them in you.
The Purpose of Hype
The purpose of hype is to exaggerate the promise of progress and increase optimism.
It’s instrumental because without optimism, only a fraction of us would be living in wooden huts in Europe still. There would be no enlightenment. Just starvation, cholera, and high infant mortality.
The very act of investing anything – capital, time, effort – into anything, is an expression of optimism. Of positive expectation that the returns on that investment will be positive in some way.
Not everybody is a liar. There are fools. Some aren’t aware that they over promise the impact of a technology. They might not even be aware that they’re hyping. They probably think that they’re just communicating or pushing against the status quo. And other people, who are not fools either, have learned to be quiet and no push back against them. Because what’s the return on that effort? Has a single bad word about bitcoin ever diminished a taxi drivers enthusiasm for it? Ever? No, of course not.
There are some people that do it deliberately though. The produce FOMO on huge scales.
FOMO. The Fear of Missing Out. It’s a careful manipulation, calculated to generate a decision which might not have occurred otherwise. You can recognize these statements because they come in the format of: “You don’t want to be the last person on the block to get an <technology> now do you?” or, “If you’re business isn’t <technology> enabled, you’re already dead in the water!”
Such statements are designed to cause fear. But if you understand their intent, they can be discarded with contempt.
In addition, there are the analysts’ forecasts. These are truly fun. How often have you read predictions that read like satire? For instance, “By 2011, experts predict that farmers won’t even be growing corn anymore, they’ll be 3D printing food,” or, “By 2017, VR headsets will overtake smartphone sales.” Ridiculous stuff. Industry will often deliberately generate an aggressive forecast because they benefit from the belief it generates.
All hype is manufactured. Sometimes by well meaning fools. Sometimes by manipulative people.
Optimism is requisite for progress. If things aren’t likely to get better, why bother?
Whenever encountering a new technology, an odds calculation is made in an investment into a new technology. For hobbyists, the experience of working with the technology itself is the reward. For the casual consumer, the probability that the thing will work and do the thing it’s hired to do is taken into account. For enterprise, the probability of return and unfair advantage is the reward. For natural monopolies or firms engaged in regulatory capture, it’s about doing the absolute bear minimum.
Markets for new technology can segment along these fault lines of expectation. At first there’s a little market of hobbyists and innovators, the true believers in the ultimate promise of the technology. Then there’s hype and a flood of hot money. Then there’s the hangover. And then, gradually, and slowly, the technology is hired to do productive things.
There are often very good reasons to be optimistic about a new technology. You can see it doing a lot of good. You believe in a story. You see parallels between this technology and something that really took off years ago. It’s very good to retain a sense of optimism about progress.
It’s also really good to think critically in terms of time frames. Is it very useful today? How about tomorrow? How about in 10 days? 100 days? How about in 1000 days? How about in 10,000 days? Can you project linear improvements over exponential time? If you can, that, unto itself, is a form of optimism itself.
This is really the core takeaway:
You can develop hype resistance by understanding why it happens, and checking your own expectations about where the technology is.
You can retain optimism by thinking about how minimally viable the technology has to be before you’ll trial, and the reason why you’re trying it in the first place.