No Sympathy For Tech

So as you may have just seen, some insiders at big companies (Zuckerberg, etc.) sold off stock. That tells me the sign that things are slowing down in tech. Well, one of many signs:

  • Everyone’s all in on AI, which means that there is going to be some shakeout when it doesn’t all work out.
  • Plenty of sites that are a little unstable, like ol’ Kotaku’s pivot (ha!) to guides.
  • Whatever embarassments crypto still holds for us.
  • Venture Capital looking for quick profits (See Ed Zitron’s latest).

This tells me that at some point we’ve got a shakeout in tech. As in something bad – and something earlier than I expected. This isn’t a surprise – for the last six months I’ve seen people make predictions that boil down to some combination of:

  • A big name takes a hit.
  • A lot of not-as-big-names fail because of a mix of bad ideas, low ad rates, and so on.
  • AI doesn’t pan out like people hope.
  • General enshittification.
  • VC money moves away fast.

I’ve been trying to puzzle out what’s going to happen myself. But there’s something else I want to address – how people react. See, I think there’s going to be little sympathy, and plenty of schadenfreude when the inevitable “big fall” happens.

People regard tech different than they did ten years ago or twenty years ago. Sure there’s some interesting stuff, but it’s often pricey, questionable, or not much more beyond interesting. Beloved sites are enshittified. Nothing seems new, often because it’s not.

Gone are the days of breathless waiting that felt like there was something worth waiting for. Ads are everywhere, websites are overclogged, products might be fourth-rate knockoffs with AI generated images. New gizmos ape SF concepts while planned obsolescence takes the fun out of the new. Annoying bad features are a joke among social media users.

A friend of mine of well over two decades has noted they feel things were better back when we first met.

So when the “big fall” happens, in whatever forms (I expect a kind of cascade collapse), I think people won’t care and many will enjoy watching things burn. When they do care it’ll be more how they’re personally impacted for obvious reasons – but there’s so much less “loving tech together” these days.

That’s also going to make everything from economic recovery to new products to potential government regulations harder to predict. Watching people fall out of love with tech (and tech has done plenty to shoot itself in the foot) isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen in my life except one thing.

Watching how the reputation of smoking collapsed in my lifetime. No, it’s not exact – tech has benefits smoking’s benefits were mostly social, but still the “feel” is there.

Perhaps that’s something for me to explore later. Just writing the above was exhausting, because so much has changed over the nearly three decades I’ve been in tech. Looking back over half my lifetime feels like several.

Steven Savage

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.

Wondering What Won’t Be Here

As of late, I’ve started wondering what technologies we’re used to are just going to go away. That’s also a great way to close out the end of the year.

Of course technologies always fall by the wayside. Some don’t work, some get replaced, some get improved, some aren’t practical. There’s a lot created in human history that’s not in widespread use in Western society. Technologies going away is normal (as is reviving them, but that’s another story).

I wonder as of late how many technologies we’ve created are a mix of unsustainable and actually just useless. How many will just go away or could because there’s no reason to keep them or we can’t.

Mostly I’m thinking about “computer stuff,” because that’s what I’ve worked on almost all of my career. I just feel like the last decade or so things have gotten faintly ridiculous.

  • Embedding computers and wireless into everything. I’m missing simple electro-mechanical solutions, cable connections, and of course I wonder about security issues. Plus how sustainable is “microchips everywhere.”
  • So-called “AI” which is really just large language models and or algorithms. There’s a ton of hype around it, while it consumes resources and creates all sorts of legal and information issues. AI hype also eclipses really good tools for things like image analysis and searching that aren’t as sensational.
  • The ads in everything. Yes, we can put ads in everything, but it feels like it’s gotten overdone. Also how much web technology has grown around serving damn ads.
  • Social media. I think we’ve started to see people rethinking how it’s used – let alone the social, security, and technical issues. Also it seems everyone keeps trying to undermine everyone else. Oh, and ads.
  • Streaming. Maybe I’m old but I’m starting to miss cable.
  • Graphic cards. Do I need the latest particle effects when some games run on the CPU? Also, this stuff is getting used for crypto.

And so on.

I’ve been wondering if what we see in technology is basically a lot of people made money, so they can “make” things succeed by investing their word and considerable money into it. Others already had a lot of money so they can try to “make” a market. Combined together I wonder how much of our technological world is just propped up by money, hype, and newness.

And I wonder how much of that is going to be around because what’s the value proposition. Streaming is nice and all, but it’s hard to keep track of everything and it gets pricey. Computer everything doesn’t seem sustainable between costs and the fact it seems we’re well on the way to see refrigerators infected with malware. How much of the technology out there is needed versus just hyped, and we race to get ahead? How oversaturated are markets?

Also can any of this survive our various crises in the world? I mean stuff is kinda shaky right now.

I don’t know. But I have the gut feeling that there’s changes coming as some things can’t be sustained or that no one wants them, needs them, or can pay for them.

Steven Savage