Let’s Talk About the Hype Cycle

I saw someone post about the “AI Hype Cycle” on Mastodon. Against all odds, I’m not going to talk about AI – I’m going to talk about the “Hype Cycle” and the fact we are really too used to it.

You probably have seen this for years – the Hype Cycle for this, the Hype Cycle for that. It’s burned into our brains, probably in part because Gartner actually tried to build a model for it. But we’re now used to the idea that the next Hype Cycle is here, coming, or sneaking up on us.

The thing is a big part of the Hype Cycle is utter bullshit and terrible disappointment. The fact that the Hype Cycle is part of our vocabulary means that we have normalized the idea that we’re being lied to and everyone is going to be bitterly unhappy later, and some lawsuits are going to fly around. We just sort of accept this, it’s been worked into our worldview and our vocabulary.

Everyone even has their roles in this play. There’s the evangelists (who probably made money last Hype Cycle), the skeptics who jump ahead to disillusionment (either understandably or because that’s their role), and so on. Sure some people believe honestly and some disbelieve, but too much of this starts seeming a lot alike.

I’m sure a big part of the Hype Cycle’s existence – and prominence – is because people WILL make money in the latest round of Hype over the Latest Thing. Venture capital streams in, people rush in with the hope of making it this time, and of course the evangelists from last time are on top of it. I also noted the last Hype Cycle for Crypto and NFTs that political actors got on top of it as well, which just amplified things further.

Of course with Crypto it’s still going, but it also seems that every week some techbro half my age goes to jail forever or gets sued for the GDP of a medium-sized country.

But some people make money in the Cycle, a lot of people loose money, and here we go again. Recently in Hype Cycle discussions, I saw a person honestly and sincerely discuss how to prosper in a Hype Cycle bust as a “cleanup consultant” which is brilliantly depressing. I myself have been in IT 30 years and have navigated many a Hype Cycle and I’m kind of done with them.*

But sadly, I think we have to discuss the Hype Cycles to ask why we have to discuss the Hype Cycles. Maybe we need to ask if we can move beyond them into something focused on real results early, on actual caution at the right time, and getting things done.

Steven Savage

* Oh and my secret to Navigating Hype Cycles? Stay aware of trends, don’t get caught up, stick with useful skills that will carry over, and put yourself in a place with real deliverables.

Technical Fads And Those Who Benefits

Guess which tech fad I’m talking about?  Doesn’t matter.  I’ve been in IT nearly 30 years as of this writing and not much has changed, it just goes faster while the ephemera of it all becomes more obvious.

Every industry, community, etc. has its fads. Thats normal, humans love new stuff, humans are social, and humans innovate.  A seemingly trite fad today could be the foundation of great future potential.  It could also vanish, but that’s just life.

In tech fads – hell, most fads – one of the issues is money.  Fads can make you money especially if you jump on them, create them, support them, or exploit them and tech lets you do it fast.  Tech has been wildly successful the last few decades and has lots of money, attracts money, and attracts people who want to make money.

Past a certain point, the money starts to matter so much the reason for the fad – sometimes good reasons – doesn’t matter.  At that point I find you end up with really two populations jumping on fads.

People with money:  You got money, you can make money – and when others are making money, you want to run up the score or have more power than them.  You can invest in many fads and hope one pays off.  Of course this distorts the actual value of whatever new ideas are out there as you can take over a market (leading to enshittification) or just keep it going long enough to cash out.

People looking for a quick score:  Jumping on fads in tech – and elsewhere – can be profitable or can seem to be.  Everyone’s ready to try and make a quick buck and fads promise a lot of opportunity.

So everyone jumps on a fad, someone gets rich, and the fad either fades, breaks, or actually becomes something solid.  Then the next fad starts and here we go again.

Thing is, two results tend to come out of this when there’s lots of money to be made.  First, some people make a lot of money, and some people get hosed and lose out.  That distorts the next fad when it’s involves a lot of money (like we see in tech, film, etc.)

First, the people who made a lot of money can jump on, take advantage of, or start the next fad easier.  They have money, they can now multiply it again!

Second, the people who didn’t make a quick score or didn’t get in on it get more desperate for the next fad.  Why miss out?  Why not try to make back what you lost?  Why can’t you be like the people who won last time?

So the next fad is more funded – and more desperate.

Where does this go?  Honestly I think this happens in many areas, not just tech, but it’s all so intertwined maybe that doesn’t matter much.  But one thing it’s not to judge by environmental pressures and economic issues is sustainable.  Winners win more, losers get more desperate, and more and more fads don’t make anything.

I suspect at some point you either see the fractures above rapidly shatter systems, and probably causing that or around that time, there’s one big fad everyone bets on.  For that one, few to no one wins and a lot of people lose.

Just staying that with our environmental problems, that could be geohacking (which I support to an extent).  Chew that one over.

Steven Savage

Into The Nothing That’s Everywhere

I observed a discussion of AI art online, and someone made a chillingly accurate comment. They said people were using AI art to get clicks on message boards. Using a tool to make “art” that you didn’t make, to post to a board of people you don’t know, so they click on the post so you feel good. Nothing actually happens or means anything. It’s just automation wearing the clothes of human interaction.

I began asking just how much of modern interaction, infused by market-driven technology, is just meaningless clicks. How much is nothing.

Not much later, I was listening to a podcast on game and game development, and how some people courted controversy. You could make an utterly crappy game, but get the right people to scream about how great it is, cite culture war B.S. and you’d sell your game. You’d get “reviews” yes, but the reviews wouldn’t be about the game you made, just who you annoyed. The tools to make a game, the social media to discuss it, the ways to distribute it, but the game itself means nothing.

Doing something to get something else to happen over something else, while everyone pretends something meaningful is going on. Human interaction as a Mousetrap-style game to get clicks, sell adds, or just annoy someone you’ll never meet. Meaningless. Nothing.

These experiences helped me get a feel for the profound alienation that seems to have settled on many in our high-tech supposedly connected world. The system of clicks, views, reviews, etc. means something else than it says it is, if it’s about anything else anymore. Yes, some – a great deal – is about ad revenue, but that’s you doing something so someone else pays you to shill an unrelated product. Even then it’s still so abstract from what you say is going on.

The Enshittification of human interaction. People can’t even hate each other properly without worrying about follower count and ad revenue.

The thing is we expected the Internet to connect us – it can and it has. Yes, it lets you build a bubble, but humans always do that. As I look over this phenomena of human abstraction and clicks and numbers, I think a way to look at it is that we’ve added middlemen.

Ad revenue companies, many big tech companies, etc. Even crypto is really a kind of middleman, an unregulated stock market of the imagination that you eventually have to cash in for real money. All of it is inserting yourself into the human experience to charge a toll and getting people to click, maybe paying them in a cut or just giving them a number to watch go up.

And now, nothing means anything except clicks and who’s getting paid. Sometimes no one is getting anything but is hoping to or doing it out of habit. Worse, so much started pretty good.

Now I wonder how sustainable it all is – and I honestly don’t know. We’re in unexplored territory at scale while the climate changes and the world careens forward. But wherever we are now, I don’t think it’s going to solve our problems. You can’t solve anything with nothing, and there’s a whole lot of nothing right now – a complicated nothing.

We need less of this nothing.

Steven Savage