Things I Like About 3D Printing Culture
When I first started exploring 3D printing, I learned quickly that the key word describing this technology is “disruptive.” It’s an interesting word, and for someone who likes the comfort of familiarity and stability, it struck an odd chord with me.
Here’s what I think about when I hear “disruption”:
- To throw into confusion or disorder.
- To interrupt or impede the progress of.
- To break apart or alter so as to prevent normal or expected functioning. (From The Free Dictionary)
I don’t like confusion and disorder. I get frustrated when people or events interfere with my progress toward a goal, and I get really, really frustrated when things don’t work as I expect they should.
If one picture frame in a room is tipped ¼”, my eye rushes to the picture, and I can’t rest until I set things “right.” I like to do the same things each morning when I get up, and that includes making my coffee the way I always have and putting it into a cup that works the way it has always worked. In fact, I still have a cup I liked and bought for myself forty-five years ago!
That, I guess, is why I’m not an inventor or a maker. I think inventing and making requires someone with a very special personality, someone who delights in surprises, who takes interruptions and detours as a spur to new questions, who doesn’t get frustrated but instead gets curious, who takes odd or unexpected functioning as opportunities to learn.
So I get that there’s a mindset associated with 3D printing technology that I can admire even though I don’t really share it. I am fascinated and inspired by the innovation I see everywhere, and I’m excited by the ways I expect I will benefit from this inventiveness despite myself.
Here are some other things I like about the 3D printing culture: sharing and collaboration, expressed in the open-source movement and via the internet. I’ve worked in a number of different environments and “industries,” and in all of them, the norm is to protect one’s own interests. Creating a new program or seeking donors? Keep your information to yourself — these are “trade secrets.” Academic discoveries? Mum’s the word. Did you create a new dish that people particularly like? Don’t share it!
This culture of secrecy is understandable but alien to me. It even seems counter-productive in some ways. I may not invent “things,” but I do invent good recipes from time to time. I know that my recipes are built on a foundation of those who came before me, and that’s even more the case now in these days of Pinterest. I also know that no one will make my recipe exactly like me. They may even make it better and share that improvement with me. And most of all, I doubt that anyone who eats in my cafe is going to think, oh, I have that recipe, I think I’ll go home and make it myself instead of eating here.
So I appreciate this 3D printing culture that highlights the benefits of open sharing. Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker BV says, “It’s important to share what we know, not expecting something back but feeling confident that something will come back. The beauty of community is that we might get something back that we didn’t expect! Or something for which we didn’t even ask!”
Of course there are limits to open sharing. Inventors who choose should be able to protect their inventions. Often they invest resources in the hope of a return on their investment, which can’t happen if someone else goes to market with their idea. The hope of rewards can stimulate innovation and creativity. Still, an environment of sharing is a welcome counter-balance to the environment of heightened secrecy and security awareness that prevails these days.
Ways We Can All Benefit from the 3D Printing Revolution…Maybe Be Part of It
So here are some ways I believe I will benefit from 3D printing even though I am not myself an inventor. I believe we will all benefit:
- As people invent and disrupt and explore and discover, many new tools, materials, procedures and “things” will result. One of these inventions or discoveries may be just the one we need to extend our life or the quality of our life. We’re on the verge of creating operating human organs from cells.
- Innovations in 3D printing might make familiar but imperfect things and procedures work better. Dental implants are one of those items that occurs to me.
- Vastly expanded opportunities for collaboration provided by the internet and idea-sharing on an open source platform will stimulate a different kind of cultural environment, at least in the world of 3D printing. But these kinds of things never stay put. This style of thinking and creating will become part of our general culture.
- In Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson wonders, “Can Makers make jobs?” pointing out that as output doubled over the past four decades, manufacturing employment fell by about 30 percent over the same period. For Anderson, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes,” as the Maker movement democratizes manufacturing. We will all benefit from this boost to the economy.
- With this new “industrial revolution,” we are poised for an age of discovery. Indeed, we see examples of these discoveries tumbling in every day. People are excited and energized to tinker. It’s great to be alive in an era of creativity and inventiveness in human history. It will infect and stimulate us all. Even me. I can let that picture hang crookedly for awhile until I figure out what caused it to tip.
Here’s a story about how 3D printing can change us all, even those of us who aren’t big on being “disrupted” and don’t consider ourselves inventors.
Last week I picked up a post from 3dprint.com about a “3D Printed Ring Case for iPhone 6” that “gives users a better grip.” The phone case included a large ring on one side that would fit a belt clip.
I used to operate a cafe, and my hands were always buried in some kind of food. Anytime my phone rang or beeped, I had to pull my hands out of whatever I was working on, rinse and dry them, and begin a hunt for my phone. Once I found it, I had to unlock it and find the button to answer. By the time I got the message, it was usually too late. I really would have preferred not to stop at all and just let the phone signal away, but what if it was something really important? And I couldn’t tell if it was or wasn’t until I went through that procedure.
Many times I thought, I wish someone would invent a phone case I could wear as a pendant on a necklace or on my belt in a way easy to remove. I’d like to know who’s on that phone before I go through this whole procedure!
So yesterday I came across that article. Here was my idea, sleek and beautiful and very effective! So you know what? Maybe I’ve been acculturated already! Maybe I, too, am an inventor . . . I just don’t yet have the skills to move myself from idea to actual thing-in-my-hands.
But I can get there, especially as things become easier, which they surely will. Remember MS-DOS?