The metaverse, web3, generative AI — today’s tech hypes seem to boom and bust faster than ever before. Together with MSCHF’s Niek Dekker and hype researcher Gemma Milne, we took a break from the churn, and reflected on the shape, nature and influence of hype itself.
Societies run by computers! Morphing identities in virtual universes! An internet that could change the very nature of human interaction — forever! Over the last few years, we've been buffeted around by tech hype. Promises of exciting futures and new modes of being, working, and interacting, are popping up everywhere, all at once.
Whole industries have been captured by these hypes, swept up by what they offer and what it could mean to miss out. The effect is far-reaching; hype not only moves money and attention, but shapes the questions we ask and the challenges we pursue, influencing the course and direction of technological innovation. Its sheer force can leave us both exhilarated and nauseous.
There are many definitions of hype but none of them seem to capture the experience of hype — the full breadth of what it feels like to be caught up by the whirlwind it creates.
As a studio committed to exploring the possibilities of emerging technologies, we work to navigate the predictions and promises that constantly surround us. But as one hype quickly replaces the next, we wondered about the broader phenomenon at work. What is hype, how does it circulate, and what does it mean to create in its wake?
Clearing the feed
To examine this thing called hype, we hosted G.O.A.T. — Talks on Hype (1), inviting MSCHF’s Niek Dekker and hype researcher Gemma Milne to reflect on the topic alongside our own research team. Together with them, and our audience, we took a step back to collectively clear the feed.
In the talks and Q&A that followed, the speakers circled hype, looking at it from up close and at a distance. They considered how hypes build, how to recognise them in motion, and ways we might be able to get a handle on the slippery phenomenon.
“What if, instead of navigating through hype, we turned our gaze to hype itself? Can we look at it, or is that like looking directly at the sun?”Amelie Dinh and Iris Cuppen
Fields notes from inside the hype cycle
Niek Dekker, all-round creative and member of NYC-based art collective MSCHF, talks about what it was like inside one of the largest cultural hypes in recent memory: the Big Red Boot. Worn by celebrities and influencers, and the topic of countless think pieces, the boot became a meme of its own, setting off a wave of hype across fashion, celebrity and popular culture. Taking us through MSCHF’s creative approach and the origin of the boot, Niek reflects on some of the reasons he feels the boot had such a broad reach, from the nostalgia that comes from drawing on familiar symbols, to the role of outrage in fuelling the hype. As the quote widely attributed to Paul Rand goes, “If you can’t make it good, make it big. If you can’t make it big make it red”.
Tech hypes: A guided tour
BB researchers Amelie Dinh and Iris Cuppen take us on a stroll through tech hypes past and present, looking not for truth or proof or broken promises, but for the rhetorical turns that allow tech hypes to build. From the dawn of the Information Age, to recent hypes around web3 and generative AI, they consider some of the artefacts — videos, tweets, memes, images, headlines — of each hype and the language and narratives that run throughout. “Thinking about tech hype as repeating stories with recurring characters can give us a little distance, a bit of perspective, and can help us step out from that which surrounds.”
Living well with hype
Gemma Milne, hype researcher and author of Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It, considers the ethical quandaries that come with hype, and how we might go about living with it. She considers what it means to “hype responsibly”, and how we might gain some agency in relation to hype. “You can really only wrestle with the reality of hype if you're thinking about the forces by which it works.”
“Are we OK with hype itself having value? Are we cool with trading on narratives?”Gemma Milne, from G.O.A.T. — Talks on Hype Q&A