Proposing a new phase for the hype cycle: The morass of malfunction

24 Feb 2020

Image: © fizkes/

Elaine Burke thinks the hype cycle is incomplete and has a suggestion for the next phase after the plateau of productivity, when everyday tech becomes a source of everyday frustration.

I think we need to add a new phase to the hype cycle.

For anyone unfamiliar, the hype cycle refers to consultancy firm Gartner’s famous graph of how technologies develop over time. This graph doesn’t chart progress in any technical capacity, but our expectations of technology as it evolves from the novel to the mundane. It’s not scientific in its measure. In fact, it’s not even a cycle. But it is a useful frame of reference for how new technologies are interpreted by audiences.

It starts with the technology trigger: the breakthrough proof-of-concept that sparks new tech possibilities. This is followed by a rapidly increasing slope upwards to the peak of inflated expectations, when media and commercial attention for a new technology’s potential has reached fever pitch. This is almost as quickly followed by a tumble into the trough of disillusionment, where those puffed-up expectations are unmet by early iterations. And of course they are – the audience was looking at a seed and wanting an instant towering oak tree.

A graph of expectations over time showing a dramatic peak and fall near the beginning before a gradual trend towards a midpoint.

A chart illustrating the Gartner hype cycle. Image: NeedCokeNow/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

But after this rollercoaster start comes the gradual uplift of the slope of enlightenment. The seed starts to germinate and sprout successful use cases. No longer under the pressure to deliver to inflated expectations, there is room to grow more organically. This brings us to the plateau of productivity. The technology has lost its ‘new’ sheen and it has been mainstreamed. It works, it is widely adopted, it is everyday.

And that’s where cycle-but-not-really ends. It ignores what comes next: the morass of malfunction.

Expectations v reality

This is the new phase of technology expectations over time that I would like to add to the hype cycle. The morass of malfunction is the point where we find ourselves wading through daily frustrations with our everyday technology.

As users, we’ve now come to expect a certain level of performance from our everyday tech and we want that to be consistent in all interactions, whether browsing websites on a computer, operating apps on a smartphone or setting controls for our hardware.

Unfortunately for us, though, as everyday tech continues to ‘innovate’ under our feet, we stumble across newly created obstacles.

Take the simple act of web browsing, for example. This is something as everyday as hitting snooze on your alarm clock. Chances are, at some point today, you will visit a website. And, chances are, that website will continue loading new elements while you are scrolling, and just as you go to click or tap the thing you were looking for, the whole layout will jump and you’ll find yourself transported via hyperlink to somewhere unexpected.

This is not an experience matched with our expectations, but it is frustratingly consistent.

Image via Gfycat

Daily tech frustrations

The day I dreamed up the morass of malfunction, I had already had three frustrating tech encounters and it was only 11am.

The first was when I tried to report a user sending abusive messages on a social media platform, which sent me on a virtual loop of steps that repeated without actually going anywhere useful. Clicking ‘No’ on the ‘Did you find this helpful?’ query did little to help the situation.

Then the myth of sync became undeniable as I had to delete saved items across two different services multiple times on multiple interfaces in order to wholly eliminate their existence. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if some reappeared today and the process had to start again because that’s just what happens these days.

I’m not the only one battling daily with sync issues, feedback loops and content jumping around a page. A quick call out to other internet users to share their everyday tech-versus-expectations mishaps turned up some gems that were sometimes strange but never wonderful. From bad Bluetooth connections and insistent pop-up notifications no one asked for, to overly sensitive hardware and duplicate files eating up your hard drive space, we all have our tetchy tech moments we could do without.

Wading through the swamp

Certainly, we, as users, have inflated expectations for seamless everyday tech, but that doesn’t make the tech-makers blameless. It’s not like all of these mishaps come from small businesses with limited ability to test, develop and ship products. Most of our daily tech interactions are with massive corporations, some of which profit off the mere fact that we sign up as users.

Who are the Twitter developers that open the app, see a tweet that grabs their interest disappear because of an unprompted refresh, and think, “Well that’s working fine”? Which Googlers open up the Maps app and do a merry dance in order to read a street name and think, “Great job, us”? And what sadist at Facebook devised the publishing tools for page managers? I would like to know.

I’m not actually saying there are hardworking developers out there scheming ways to make our daily tasks irritating. But I do feel, as a user, that the work being done under the hood of the everyday tech we use is not always in our best interest.

In the case of a lot of very useful technology, those in charge have a tendency to reinvent the very functional wheel with added bells and whistles. This overcomplicates things, and any new component increases the risk of malfunction.

We are drowning in unnecessary features and malfunction malaise. And that disconnect between our expectations and the tech-makers’ development plan could see us wade through the swamp to the next phase: the break up.

I mean, if the tech don’t work, why use it? A new rollercoaster journey will already have set off with the next shiny thing to solve our daily frustrations and we could hitch a ride on that. Maybe that’s how the hype cycle completes itself.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.