On Hype: A Reading List
By Iris Cuppen and Amelie Dinh
In preparation for G.O.A.T. — Talks on Hype, we closely observed the real-time hypes unfolding around us, while also diving into the wider discourse on hype as a political, social and economic force. From practical guides to comparative analyses, from economic perspectives to historical takes: here are some of the books and articles that shaped our thinking along the way.
“Notes on Hype”, Devon Powers, International Journal of Communication, 2012
How might we think about hype? Media scholar Devon Powers provides a useful starting point. In this paper, she traces the use and evolution of the term, and reviews previous thinking on the subject. She considers the shape, form and influence of hype, draws connections between the hype and innovation cycles, and asserts that hype “tells us something about the present”. Her central argument: hype is a relevant force, one that plays a broad economic, social and cultural role, and is deserving of further study.
Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events, Robert J Shiller, 2019
While it sometimes feels intangible, made of magical dust, the rise and fall of the hypes of the day have a concrete, economic impact. Nobel-prize winning economist Robert J Shiller takes a close look at how compelling narratives can converge to propel significant market events. Via a wide breadth of contemporary cases that includes the emergence of cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence, he argues that “narratives are major vectors of rapid change in culture, in zeitgeist, and in economic behaviour”.
“The Function of Buzzwords: A Comparison of ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Telematics'”, Ole J. Mjos, Hallvard Moe, and Vilde Schanke Sundet, First Monday, 2014
This article considers the economic, political and social functions of the buzzword. Citing the big buzzwords of the day — including “big data”, “social media”, “Web 2.0” and “user-generated content” — the authors argue that a close reading of how buzzwords develop and circulate can provide us insight into how we make sense of the world, and in particular, new media technologies. We particularly appreciated the review of the voices and events that popularised the term “Web 2.0”; in the wake of last year’s web3 boom, a present-day review of how “Web 2.0” emerged as a household term serves as an invitation to consider the repeating patterns around how we frame and articulate emerging technologies.
“Talking AI into Being: The Narratives and Imaginaries of National AI Strategies and Their Performative Politics”, Jascha Bareis and Christian Katzenbach, Science, Technology & Human Values, 2022
Through a comparative qualitative analysis, this research paper unravels the visions and idealisations of AI constituted in national regulatory initiatives. While the word “hype” is not used in this paper, it does underline how the narrative construction of AI strategies worldwide are strikingly similar. (In sum: this new technology will disrupt society fundamentally and its adoption is inevitable!) Yet, the respective imaginaries that articulate how to integrate and shape future AI developments turn out to be fundamentally different, reflecting the vast cultural, political, and economic differences of the countries under study. The paper sheds an interesting light on how the bold, global visions that drive the AI hype forward create a lock-in effect on a national level.
“Artificial Intelligence: A 'Promising Technology'”, Hartmut Hirsch-Kreinsen, AI & Society, 2023
This research paper defines AI as a “promising technology”, outlining how the technological promise of AI has the character of an unquestionable technological utopia. It showcases the ways the technology is presented as an important means to overcome the many urgent challenges facing society, and bring about a better society. It examines how these promises, expectations and narratives have shaped the development history of AI. While researching hype, this paper offered us some tools to think through and dissect the different storytelling elements that make up a tech hype, from ambiguous metaphors to claims of inevitability.
“The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong”, Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, 2014
The concept of “disruptive innovation” has influenced boardroom decisions ever since Clayton Christensen introduced it in his 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma. In her (quite controversial!) New Yorker long-read from 2014, Harvard historian Jill Lepore dissects Christensen’s popular theory with much bravada, and finds a number of flaws that cast doubt on its descriptive and predictive powers.
Bonus tip: Lepore is known for giving in-depth accounts of the origins of the data-mad, algorithmic twenty-first century we live in, showcasing how today’s tech hypes have their own history. Her podcast “Elon Musk: The Evening Rocket” gives another intriguing account of how visions of the future often stem from the stories we are told.
“Can Hype Be a Force for Good: Inviting Unexpected Engagement with Science and Technology Futures”, Tara M Roberson, Public Understanding of Science, 2023
As Gemma Milne touched upon in her talk, discussions of hype inevitably set off broader questions around ethics and morality. Roberson takes some of these tensions on, reviewing the overall “contribution of hype to science”. Researchers, she states, have to make long-term promises in order to gain short-term support from political bodies and funding institutions. If dealing in hype is inevitable and unavoidable, how might researchers also wield it for positive outcomes?
“You’re Doing it Wrong — Notes on Criticism and Technology Hype”, Lee Vinsel, 2021
It’s not just cheerleaders and optimists who can bolster a hype — critics can too. In this punchy read, Science and Technology Studies professor Lee Vinsel argues that too much of the critical tech discourse uses over-inflated promises as its basis for critique, glossing over limitations of what the technology itself is actually capable of. The result: critics who feed into the hypes they aim to challenge, and even leverage that hype in order to attract attention and funding. The article serves as a provocation on the assumptions that tech critique sometimes relies upon.
Hype: A Critical Field Guide, Johannes Klingbiel
Confused about what to do with all the hype out there? This zine can help. Designer and researcher Johannes Klingbiel provides a highly readable and concise overview of the key topics around tech hype, from defining the phenomenon to breaking down the actors that fuel it in the wild. “Big tech companies don’t make predictions”, he writes. “'AI is the future' is not a gaze into the crystal ball but a declaration of business strategy”. His outline of the rhetorical figures and tropes used in hype narratives is particularly astute, and informed some of our own talk.
Have a reading on the topic you would recommend? Send it our way at email@example.com.