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REFLEX #2 - Trends 🌊
During the XVII century, the Netherlands went through an economic bubble known as tulip mania. The tulip became quite a cherished product and its price went up to more than ten times the annual salary of a skilled craftsman; the demand was already high as it was considered an exotic flower, brought to Europe on trading vessels that sailed from the East, and also being difficult to grow – it could take years for a single tulip to bloom. But the tulip mania started when, during the 1630s, a virus affected some tulips and turned their flowers even more beautiful by lining petals with multicolour, flame-like streaks. This kind of tulip was even scarcer than normal ones, so its price and popularity started to rise nationwide. While the bubble was on, a sailor even went to jail to eat a few of them as if they were onions, a few tulips whose cost might have regaled a whole ship’s crew for a twelve-month. Clearly, he wasn’t aware of the flower’s popularity on the market.
While the outsider sailor’s case shows us the importance of being up to date on things happening around us, the opposite case would be good old Mr. Chance (Being There, Hal Ashby, 1979). The simple gardener from the movie gets to fool the general public of a country such as the USA by simply repeating clichés and other statements heard on TV. His discourse is full of what nowadays we call buzzwords; these are highly popular within the business sector, and they tend to be seen as opportunity –and therefore, money– boosters. In recent years, many of these buzzwords have circulated, often related to tech and –obviously– most of them as English terms: user-friendly, data-driven, blockchain, sustainable, smart –and whatever you want to add to it– participatory, design-thinking… The more they are used and made circulate, the more abstract their meaning becomes and, often, the greater its invoking power; and that’s one of their strengths: abstract concepts with no specific meaning can bear virtually everything – at least superficially. Think about newspaper’s horoscopes and their adaptability and concordance with whoever reads them: the abstract tends to be good at becoming universal and guessing things right.
Also, the process of particular meaning loss is not endless; it reaches a point when those words are so worn down they lose their original sense. This is a common issue within the tech field, where buzzwords abound to describe all types of processes and concepts, until they end up empty and they lead to misunderstanding. Every concept is subject to become one of those: we’ve created an interactive visualization so one can look at the evolution of the various adjectives that preceded the word technology through history, and the hype they had in each period.
So, are we suggesting ignoring these trend words and concepts and acting as outsiders? We have already seen that is not the right choice, as we may end up in jail for eating a couple of buzzwords without knowing they actually are so, or even worse, we may be left out of the market. Therefore, we should be aware of what happens around us, but not repeating everything just because it seems to be a trend at that particular moment; or else we will just reproduce an empty speech, surfing the trend waves without any content to contribute with. In that sense, we might learn something from blatant cases such as the rise and fall of the cryptocoins, for example. The technology that promised technological utopies has had a short three-year life since its explosion in 2021. The lack of depth and coherence during its development led it to decline when a more promising trend started to raise interest among the tech industry such as the metaverse or generative AI.
Thus, it is more desirable to show with facts –such as visuals– how innovative, transformative, user-friendly or sustainable our product is, beyond abstract horoscope-like speeches; in other words: show, don’t tell. Proving we know how to land an idea, how to develop it and turn it into something – showing how many of those overused concepts actually reached a production phase. Being aware of trends and the big words they bring along, but keeping reality close to us and trying to balance our argument between both sides, always ready to contribute with something new when the next tulip’s –or language’s– colour-changing-virus comes.
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