Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Do hype cycles show up in books?

About fifteen years ago Jackie Fenn, an analyst at Gartner, came up with the idea of a hype cycle (shown above) to interpret how technology gets adopted. You can read their brief description and look at their emerging technologies version for 2010. 

In his Virtual Travelog blog on April 20th John R. Harris took a look at that idea using the Ngram viewer. He decided that it was:

 “the information technology equivalent of snake oil.”

I decided to look at some new and old transportation technologies with the Google Books Ngram Viewer to see if they followed the hype cycle. The above graphs show the flying wing, airship (and Zeppelin), electric car, steamboat, and canal boat. Only the flying wing really fits a hype cycle. Others have more complicated shapes. History is messy!

Then, since I’m a materials guy, I decided to also look at one type of material. Hype for it is well known from the following dialogue in the 1967 romantic-comedy movie, The Graduate:

"Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics."

In this case the hype cycle also seems oversimplified.There are three smaller humps after the first big one.

I don’t think the hype cycle really is any more useful than the idea of a business cycle. By the way, Gartner has also talked about Cycles, Waves, and Multiple Peaks.

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