None of us are entirely immune to it; in varying ways and degrees, hype seeps into all our brains and makes us consider things differently. And with superlative adjectives piling up in press releases the world over, it’s becoming harder to ignore the negative impact that hyperbole is having on the human populace.
Smartphone launches are intended, more so than ever, to shock, amaze and awe people into submission, and it’s not helping anyone except for those who have the most money to spend on glitzy events.
Forget the Anthropocene; we’re living in the Hyperbolecene. The world is being detrimentally affected by vast amounts of hyperbole, pouring into the atmosphere like so much hot gas.
In this thesis, I propose that the Hyperbolocene began in 2007, with a certain keynote speech. Smartphones have changed the world, but with what impact on the rate of hyperbole being pumped into the atmosphere? The cost, in my opinion, is enormous.
Where in the beginning smartphones were touted, quite rightly, as world-changing, now they’ve lost that edge and are looking for new ways to maintain their rates of hyperbole production.
The months preceding a big smartphone launch are littered with rumors about specs and features. The Galaxy S7 was to have a 20 MP camera and Force Touch technology. The Note 6will have 6 GB of RAM and be a laptop, too.
But rumors are meant to be slightly spectacular and speculative and are naturally regarded with skepticism. The manufacturers themselves, however, are keener than ever to stoke the fires of hype, producing enough hyperbole to raze a city.
At a recent launch event here in Berlin, HTC sat us down in a dimly lit room and blasted choral chants at us as images of lasers and its new HTC 10, shaking under the sheer force of its BoomSound speakers, flashed and glanced across the screen. In the closing moments, a trio of 10s emerged out of the darkness, reflective and brilliant, a triumvirate for a brave new age.
We’re bombarded with empty slogans and meaningless claims: “Rethink what a phone can do”; and my favorite: “Our engineers are so obsessed with battery life we’ve turned it into a science”, as though before the HTC 10, battery life were improved through an alchemical blend of magic and roasted unicorn droppings.
Huawei just launched its new flagship, the Huawei P9, in London earlier this month. And guess who was there. None other than Superman.
And at the S7 launch in Barcelona a couple of months ago, when the audience removed their Gear VR headsets, Mark Zuckerberg had appeared onstage, like a billionaire with a penchant for party tricks, ready to give a speech on the bright future of smartphones and VR.
Of course, all of this is marketing, intended to raise the profile of a phone and get people’s attention. And it works. But the double-edged nature of the hype-sword is that those paying close attention will feel let down when it turns out the HTC 10 has distinctly average battery life, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 is actually just an extremely good phone, but definitely still a phone, doing phone things. And we shouldn’t have to feel let down. The S7 is great, beautiful, triumphant. Why try assure us of even more?
One of the few companies that doesn’t take this angle is LG, who, with the G5, instead opted for a more playful tone, touting the device’s uniqueness rather than its reality-bending specs, even though it’s just as powerful as the S7. The approach was refreshing and intriguing, adding a layer of style and grace to the product, rather than selling it as a the most insane thing that you’ve ever been relentlessly beaten over the head with.
The thinking is that all hype is good hype. Because people have short memories, in a few months we won’t remember that the phone doesn’t do half the absurd things that were claimed to attract peoples’ attention: the processor doesn’t operate faster than light, and the RAM doesn’t mean I can do 748 things at once with no lag.
The only way to combat the Army of Hype is to keep our skeptic hats aligned at all times, to measure the way the rafter-shaking influences our thinking, and, most of all, remember the promises we were made and hold manufacturers accountable.