Hype is a fascinating concept and one that is heavily relied on these days.
Those who have a vested interest in a new technology being adopted by the broader market use hype as a weapon to drive and boost hysteria around their new toy...as well as the valuation of their stock.
Hype is a kind of modern meme that moves people to take notice and hopefully inspires action.
Hype is everywhere you look. It sells page views on websites, drives up the price of IPOs on Wall Street, gets people to buy into new ideas that they themselves don't really understand.
The various utopian futures that hype creates are however riddled with bias and spin in increasingly radical levels of intensity.
Johannes Klingebiel - a designer and researcher - has been studying the phenomenon of hype and has created a great framework representing the various scales of hype to better understand it's progression.
'Hype is an interesting thing. It‘s rightfully often spurred as misleading bullshit or ignorant boosterism but it also has its uses. In short: 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 also act as glue. At its best, it can create a shared vision pulling the actors in the same direction and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.'
Klingebiel created his '5 levels of hype' to help better understand the different types of hype that are used.
'LEVEL 1: MARKETING CLAIMS
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.'
'LEVEL 2: EXAGGERATED CLAIMS
Here the effects and impact of an 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 a technology, often skirting the line to fraud.
A good example might be tesla selling their driving assistance systems as “full self-driving”.'
'LEVEL 3: UTOPIAN FUTURES
The technology is the key to a utopian future or the avoidance of a dystopic one. Claims are solely focussed 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.
One example here might be carbon capture technology, though it already exists in the form of prototypes, it‘s still in its infancy. Thus boosters of the technology will emphasize the future potential of its present capabilities to attract further investment and political support.'
'LEVEL 4: MAGICAL THINKING
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.
A particularly good example here might be 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.'
'LEVEL 5: OTHERING
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.
Examples here are (again) the cryptocurrency scene which has been pretty good at othering critics as “no-coiners” or lately with the phrase “have fun staying poor”. Another example might also be particularly vocal groups of boosters at the height of the AI hype a couple of years ago. Here the claims were that critics simply didn’t “understand exponential growth”.'
This piece is part of a much larger body of work that Klingebiel is focused on, which you can follow here.
As a futurist, a lot of people demand of you to dabble in hype - and sadly a lot of so-called futurists do (because there is a lot of money to be made in hype). There is however a lot of danger in blindly following 'the hype trail'.
Lots of money and time can be wasted chasing mirages.