Is Silicon Valley Running out of Hype?

The digital economy runs on optimism and expectation. Tech startups don’t make money as long as the scale. Big tech shares are measured with a different yardstick than other businesses. Employees many times make more money from stock options than wages. And whatever short-term problems (“disruption”) it brings is always compensated by big promises (“opportunities”) for the future. But is the hype machine running out of steam?

We’ve had a steady influx of hype for decades. Web 2.0. Smart phones. Big Data. 5G. Smart watches. Blockchain. Web 3. Metaverse. AI. Each of them sparkling with new possibilities, attracting capital private and public, disrupting existing economies and attracting “early-adopters”. Never mind the actual contribution to economy or jobs, get in ahead of the curve and you can make big bucks.

The unusual decade of negative interest and quantitive easings (=printing money) by central banks has been a perfect driver of this economy. If you lose money by keeping it, invest it anywhere. Facebook for pets? Let’s do it! Micromobility app scooters? Bring it! As long as new investors come in after, you can make a nice exit.

Of course now the macro-economy has changed. The era of free money is over. Share-holders ask for profitability over growth. So that is one problem. But is there a bigger problem? What if innovation is dead?

I used to be able to see what was coming around the corner. Spot the next hype from a distance. So perhaps I lost the touch. But I have no idea what comes after AI. Far-future technologies like DNA data storage and quantum computing are decades away. Sure, digital twins and 6G mobile connectivity, but the use cases are more for business-to-business than consumer facing value chain upsetters.

Maybe I’m just out of touch. Or maybe there is a new hype arriving any moment. But it could also be that there is no new great hype any time soon. I am concerned for the big tech barons. Surely the era of digital feudalism cannot be over…