Be Skeptical About the “Next Big Thing”

And there are many more examples. The pushback against the virtual reality hype began in the early ’90s, and one wit noted there were more virtual reality conferences than customers.

Public key encryption was invented 30 years ago, but even now most email is not encrypted. The Josephson junction was an “inevitable” technology in the early 1980s. Is quantum computing inevitable in the same way?

This isn’t to say that none of these projects had an impact. However, what they delivered was far less than what was promised.

And there are more: Smart homes have not met expectations. Or biometrics, telecommuting, and smart cards. Or paperless offices, ebooks, micropayments, bubble memory, RISC logic, the network computer, and dozens more, both inside and outside the IT industry. None lived up to its hype.

It’s easy to get sidetracked to the reasons why these technologies failed—consumer resistance, the economics didn’t make sense, technical difficulties, and so on—but these reasons are beside the point.

These technologies were all big in their day. There was lots of buzz. The experts predicted great things for them. But history shows that most “inevitable” technologies aren’t. In fact, most new products fail.

The moral of the story? Be skeptical next time you hear about the “Next Big Thing.”

Bob Seidensticker is an engineer who writes and speaks on the topic of technology change. A graduate of MIT, Bob has more than 25 years of experience in the computer industry. He is author of Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change and holds 13 software patents.