Rapid Prototyping and the Future

I don’t purport to know what the future will hold, nor do I believe I have the slightest idea of what is waiting for us in the next few years. However, having used my new Makerbot for two days so far, (despite the fact that skeinforge and my brain don’t get along at all) I’m starting to get a glimpse of why so many people are saying that home fabrication could be so important to the future of mankind. It sounds rather unbelievable at the moment, to distribute manufacturing to homes so that people can make goods for themselves rather than buy them, and I found it difficult to believe as well, especially since the biggest thing up and coming in the computer world is cloud-computing, the centralization of a resource, not the distribution of it. Nonetheless, having a rapid prototyper has given me a unique outlook on this who issue.

Several hours after finishing my Makerbot, and even a little bit before, I began thinking differently. As I browsed Thingiverse looking for something to print, I wasn’t really moved by anything. It’s not that the things weren’t absolutely awesome, but rather that there wasn’t really anything I wanted to print. You see, as I understand, there is a certain primal, human instinct to consume. We want to get everything we can so that later, when supplies aren’t available, we will be well-stocked. This is one of the tactics used to influence customers into impulse buys, and it is a very powerful human tendency. Having a 3D printer, however, changes all that. Browsing Thingiverse that day, I realized that all of the things I saw there would be there tomorrow. I noticed amazing designs, and fabulous creations, but there wasn’t anything that my inner caveman was telling me I had to have at just that moment. And as I realized this, I started to see why money might become unimportant in the future. I started to see how a society like that envisioned by the great Gene Roddenberry in Star Trek, where people are no longer motivated by greed, but rather by achievement and self-perfection, could actually be possible.

Imagine, for a moment, that everyone has, in their homes, devices like the “replicators” in Star Trek, or some kind of device that can produce anything you want from food to electronics whenever you want. Not only can it produce all of these things, it can also produce its own parts, so selling them is pointless. Furthermore, in our hypothetical society, the piracy battle has be won – by everyone. Information is freely available on the internet (for those skeptics, read The Pirate’s Dilemna it’s eye opening), so people can simply go home and create anything they want. So what place does money have? What can money be used for? Ok, so services could still have monetary value, but why would people who provide a service require money when they can’t buy anything with it but more services? Maybe some companies could try to sell designs, sell files of their products to people with these fabrication machines, but once one person has the item, presumably someone else could just scan it and create a new one at no cost just as easily as we rip CD’s today. It’s therefore logical to assume that money could  be completely abolished.

And once everyone has these devices, they’ll probably experience the same thing I’m experiencing. Yes, they could create piles and piles of clothes or technology, or food, or whatever it is that they enjoy consuming, but why would they could simply produce things on demand? Even for people who are compulsive shoppers, I think that another basic human instinct would kick in: laziness. As humans, we feel that messes must be cleaned. Lots of things means more mess, and more mess means we feel guilt as we stare down at the mess, because we don’t want to live in a mess, but we’re too lazy to clean. I believe that people will feel too lazy to clean their houses, and therefore will resist creating excess things.

Back in the real world, I guess this entire post is to say that I am very satisfied that I can print things I need or want on demand. It’s really a lot of fun, and building the Makerbot was a lot of fun too. And with that, I’ll leave you with a case and point of how awesome this machine is. Finally, the mounting brackets I discussed in the last post.

Notice, on either side of the canoe paddle, the ABS plastic wall mounts. And my poster of the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Notice, on either side of the canoe paddle, the ABS plastic wall mounts. And my poster of the Montreal Jazz Festival.

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