I learnt about a useful way to visualize progress of new technologies: The Gartner Hype Cycle. The key idea is that a technology has five phases in its life cycle: The trigger, the peak of inflated expectations, the trough of disillusionment, the slope of enlightenment, and the plateau of productivity.

This figure makes it clearer:

Gartner Hype Cycle Diagram / Olga Tarkovski / CC BY-SA 3.0

As an example of the hype cycle at work, consider social media:

  • Trigger: Social media took off in the early 2000s with sites like Orkut, MySpace, Tagged, Hi5, Friendster, Facebook and Twitter. Only the latter two would grow significantly over the next decade.
  • Peak of inflated expectations: The early to mid 2010s. Optimism abounds for the positive impact social media will have. People believed social media platforms would transform journalism, upend dictatorships, and bring the world closer together.
  • Trough of disillusionment: This is where we are today. People are worried about fake news, misinformation, and the divisive nature of social media.
  • Slope of enlightenment: Eventually people will build antibodies to fake news and divisive content. Platforms will get better at detecting spam and inauthentic content.
  • Plateau of productivity: Social media becomes a moderately useful utility like TV.

This video goes over the Gartner Hype Cycle for technologies in the last 25 years: