Smart Planet points to the Hype Cycle, an annual report from Gartner, a big IT consultancy. Right now they put our pet tech 3D printing at the top of the hype cycle, the Peak of Inflated Expectations.
There are some interesting phases in the Hype Cycle, the long climb up from the Technology Trigger (we have been following it through this period, before we even settled on 3D printing as the name for it, under our tags dematerialization and downloadable design)Here at the peak, even Foreign Policy Magazine and the Economist are claiming that it will revolutionize manufacturing. I have gone so far as to claim that it will change the way we build our cities.
I have also stood on the Peak of Inflated Expectations with prefabricated housing, only to tumble into the Trough of Disillusionment four years ago, writing posts like Home Delivery: Modern Prefab Lives Fast, Dies Young, Leaves Good Looking Corpse and The Glidehouse Is At The End Of The Road For Green Modern Prefab, and coming to work full time for TreeHugger instead of trying to flog MiniHomes. But others, like Resolution 4 Architects or Steve Glenn at Living Homes, stayed the course and slogged their way up the Slope of Enlightenment. New blood and guts like Blu Homes joined the party and now we probably are getting close to a Plateau of Productivity, where prefab is a viable alternative that makes economic sense.
It's a cycle that the entire green movement has been through; now so many companies are quietly chasing energy efficiency, reduced waste and cleaner operations instead of painting themselves green, and we haven't shown a bamboo T-shirt in years.
There are many ideas that tumble off the edge of the Peak and are never heard from again; Christopher Mims compared 3D Printing to Virtual Reality and wrote in Technology Review earlier this year:
The desire for 3-D printing to take over from traditional manufacturing needs to be recognized for what it is: an ideology. Getting all of our goods from a box in the corner of our home has attractive implications, from mass customization to "the end of consumerism." With stakes like those, who wouldn't want to be a true believer?
Hype is inevitably followed by some level of backlash, or at least disinterest, and it would be a shame for 3-D printing to head into a too-deep trough of the Gartner hype cycle.
It will be an interesting ride.