Hype Hazards: What Can We Learn From The History Of Technology Hype?

What Can We Learn From The History Of Technology Hype

Think back to 31st December 1999. Where were you when the countdown to the New Year ended? One thing I can be certain of is that you weren’t stuck in a lift hurtling 12 storeys to the ground, in the midst of a massive traffic pile-up because all the lights stopped working at once or in a plane plummeting 30,000 feet from the sky as all the onboard systems died.

Yet, if the scaremongers in the IT world were to be believed, you should have been. Fears over the effects of the millennium bug had been blasted all over the IT press and even in the mainstream media for months (years in some cases) beforehand. Millions of pounds were wasted in a desperate bid to upgrade systems before the end of the century. In the end, absolutely nothing happened. The world didn’t end with a bang or a whimper.

That was perhaps the most public and ridiculous example of the hysterical levels of hype that have given technology a bad name over the last 20 years or so. The millennium bug was followed in short order by the ‘dot bomb’ that exploded the dot com bubble and left many investors and pension funds licking their wounds and counting their losses.

There have been other entrants in the IT hype hall of infamy before and since to the extent people might be forgiven for thinking hype is an intrinsic part of the DNA of IT. Those suspicions aren’t so fanciful when you consider that market research company Gartner uses a “hype cycle” to illustrate the hype and disappointment that accompanies the introduction of new technologies. And it’s been using the hype cycle since 1995! Frankly, it’s a wonder so many companies and people take anything they hear from the IT world seriously any more.

At the moment, business users are being buffeted by a virtual whirlwind of hype overdrive around the likes of social media, big data, bring your own device (BYOD) and the cloud. It’s no wonder they’re confused and uncertain about the benefits of these trends, especially when they are too often confronted not just by new technologies but new language and terminology to explain them. Yes, we’re talking about another elemental part of IT: jargon. Even if business users can navigate their way around the hype, they still have to try and decipher the jargon.

Results from a recent survey by Six Degrees Group demonstrate just how damaging jargon and hype have become to the IT industry. More than half of business decision makers believe tech companies are more guilty of using hype and jargon than bankers, lawyers and politicians combined. That’s a damning verdict on the performance of the IT industry and it’s reflected in how people view hot new technology phenomena such as the cloud.

How else can we explain the fact that 22% believed Platform As A Service (PaaS) was a new philosophy in railway management, 16% thought Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS) is a new road project and 15% identified cloud computing as a free WiFi service for Internet access in public places? Those findings should be a source of discomfort, if not shame, for many of those in IT companies whose job it is to evangelise and explain technologies like cloud computing.

Too often, IT vendors, IT departments and their IT partners appear to be willing members of an exclusive IT enclave that seeks to flummox, bemuse and scare customers into buying technology rather than encouraging them to do so by giving them the confidence and understanding to make informed decisions about it.

It’s no wonder hype and jargon continue to bedevil and undermine the IT industry when so many of its constituent parts are guilty of stoking the fires rather than trying to bring them under control. It would take a seismic change to free current technology phenomena such as cloud computing, BYOD, social media and big data from the hype cycle. However, we should all be doing our bit. For my part, I’ve just invested in a no-nonsense guide to the cloud that cuts the jargon and hype. It is a small step, but someone’s got to take a stand to help stop this industry nonsense.

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Campbell Williams

Campbell Williams is a 15-year industry veteran who has held various sales, marketing and business development management roles in a variety of manufacturing, carrier and reseller companies. He started his career in Mitel where he was part of a team that drove the company’s transition from a direct sales and traditional PBX business to a channel focused and IP telephony software provider. Director-level positions at AT Communications and Charterhouse Voice & Data followed before he joined Six Degrees Group in 2011. Campbell is a well-known figure in the industry and he has travelled the world as a presenter and subject-matter expert in a variety of technology fields, including twice addressing global United Nations conferences.