It's a common set of circumstances. The grungy underground band you saw a couple of times in dingy little clubs gets noticed by Steve Lamacq and all of a sudden your esoteric music bubble is burst because their songs are being played in adverts for home insurance.
Apparently, this reverse-popularity-effect can be applied to the world of technology. Distinguished Professor of Communications at Penn State and Co-Director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory S Shyam Sundar, together with Assistant Professor of Communications at Indiana University-Pursue University, Fort Wayne Daniel J Tamul, and Penn State graduate student Mu Wu have compiled an International Journal of Human-Computer Studies-published paper suggesting this.
"Everyone says they know what 'cool' is, but we wanted to get at the core of what 'cool' actually is, because there's a different connotation to what 'cool' actually means in the tech world," Sundar said. "It appears to be a process. Once the product loses its subculture appeal, for example, it becomes less cool, and therein lies the challenge."
The publication of this paper got me to thinking about the 3D printing bubble - the theory surrounding the exponential rise in popularity the technology has see in recent years, in particular the saturation of the desktop 3D printing market - is becoming a victim of its own success. Because the realm of 3D printing is no longer consigned to the RepRappers and industrial powers of this world, and because everybody from Jay Leno to that chap from Made in Chelsea seem to have one, is 3D printing losing its 'coolness'?
The authors of the report found that a cool technology trend moves, unshockingly, in waves. First people in groups - subcultures outside of the mainstream - begin to take on the device. This faction of early adopters is typically identified as people who do not follow the pack. Once the popularity of a technology percolates through this seemingly exclusive group, with these pioneering users qualifying the tech's 'coolness', the product then becomes adopted by the mainstream.
It was noted by the authors - who quizzed 315 college students about 14 different products - that changes to the product's sub-culture appeal or originality will affect the overall 'coolness' of the product, who reported that if a product becomes widely adopted by the mainstream, it becomes less cool.
Sundar explained that in order to succeed, companies need to be constantly adapting their products, ensuring what goes to market is at the very tip of the cutting-edge. "It underscores the need to develop an innovation culture in a company," Sundar said. "For a company to make products that remain cool, they must continually innovate."
But there is hope! If this theory really does apply to 3D printing then the technology could benefit from a post-bubble-bursting (if the hype bubble theory proves to be correct) retro appreciation. Apparently, the paper proved that tech that has fallen out of favour can miraculously regain its 'coolness' if the subculture rekindles its fondness for the product, such as record players, which have now been restored to trophy status among music aficionados.
The interesting thing about Sundar and co.'s report is that now outmoded studies on 'coolness' believed design and originality were the key drivers in how popular something became in the mainstream.
Sundar said: "Historically, there's a tendency to think that cool is some new technology that is thought of as attractive and novel. The idea is you create something innovative and there is hype - just as when Apple is releasing a new iPhone or iPad - and the consumers that are standing in line to buy the product say they are buying it because it's cool.
"The utility of a product, or its usefulness, was not as much of a part of coolness as we initially thought. The bottom line is that a tech product will be considered cool if it is novel, attractive and capable of building a subculture around it." Until the subculture grows bored of it, that is.