Makers: The New Industrial Revolution
Chris Anderson's new book has me excited. I just started reading it yesterday, but I'm already stoked about the possibilities of Makers (referring to the people themselves, not just the book title). Anderson talks about the fact that we are all makers, to some extent (in the same way that we are creative at one level or another). Some of us are creative in technical fields, while some may be makers in gardens, in the kitchen, in art. We all have that drive and ability to make, or create, something.
In particular, the book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution is a discussion about the culture popping up around 3D printing. I've written about 3D printing before (3D-Printed Guitars and a World of Possibilities), but my focus has been on how amazing the technology is on purely an abstract level. I haven't given the tech in-depth thought as to how deeply it can affect our struggling economy.
Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, does see the connection. Describing how manufacturing jobs have by and large disappeared from Western culture, Anderson writes that makers - individuals who design products on their desktops in their homes and offices - are the manufacturers of the future. Today's makers can print off a few prototypes of a new design and then mass produce that same product in the same week.
Just think about that for a second.
The manufacturing process used to be (and in many companies, still is by necessity) a cumbersome task where designs have to be reviewed countless times before even creating the first prototype. Then, finding a model that everyone can agree upon will require countless more iterations. Again, this isn't always a bad thing. I would prefer my vehicle to have been thoroughly tested before I load my family up to travel halfway across the country for the holidays.
But, not every product needs such an extensive lead time. And that's where 3D printing can really change things.
The craziest thing about all of this is that you can jump in this "maker" space right now, provided you have the time to get up to speed on the technology. You can go and find open-source designs for all sorts of products and print them now. If you understand the process of how the item could function more efficiently, you could even submit your own modifications to the guide and allows others to download your concepts.
It's DIY on a digital-made-real level.
From the Screen to "Real-Life"
Anderson talks about the concept of "atoms and bits" - meaning the stuff of the real world versus our digital world. 3D printing is a leap from the wide-open realms of digital into the real. Whatever you can dream up and design, you can print. (I'm sure that's not totally true, but you can print a house in 20 hours!)
Yes, there are consequences to such freedoms. We'll have to find ways to deal with the negative issues that can arise (cheap knockoffs of reputable brands, illegal items printed, etc.). I don't want to gloss over the issues here because we will have to consider what could happen carefully.
But, there are many amazing benefits to consider for this technology, as well. What excites me is that this culture is already moving ahead at such a rapid pace, and it's doing so under an open-source philosophy. Just this morning, I found a design for a remote control plane that you can print up. You'll have to pay printing costs, and you'll need to get a small motor to accompany the raw assembly parts, but the design itself is free. The intellectual property of this creation is yours to have.
Not all IP will be free in the coming years, and I don't even think that it should be. But think how much we benefited from having the Mozilla Firefox browser. Internet users frustrated with the experience of Microsoft's Internet Explorer finally had an option. Google Chrome came along and addressed many of the same concerns as the Mozilla community did, but that innovation from a huge company came after a community took it upon itself to create an alternative.
The power of the people.
We can't be naive about this technology. There are very real concerns. But, as with any exciting advance, we can't dwell on the negative so much that we miss out on an amazing opportunity to grow.
Check out Makers: The New Industrial Revolution on Amazon (affiliate link), or find it at the library like I did. I'll be talking about the book more on my Twitter and Google+ accounts, so give me a shout if you're interested in discussing it further. I can't wait to see where this goes.