"Forget guns, what happens when everyone prints their own shoes?" and / or "Imagine what will happen when millions of people start using the tools that produced The Liberator to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives. Rest in peace, Bed, Bath & Beyond. Thanks for all the stuff, Foxconn, but we get our gadgets from Pirate Bay and MEGA now."
It's interesting to me, firstly, because the tone it adopts has become increasingly familiar in recent months as Futurologists trip over their own feet in a headlong, hyperbole-propelled rush towards some bright, optimistic new corporate-paradigm-bursting, er, future. This Wired-led world of "Well, golly-gawsh, ain't science wunnerful, the way it's gonna free us from the chains of Big Manufacturing / Government. Bye-bye, Statism..." - *fires pistol into the air* / *throws crate of tea overboard* - is starting to sound a bit like, well, some other things that we've already heard before...
I'll take optimism wherever I can get it, for sure... but it's all starting to resemble a re-run of the buzz that circled the early days of the Web, when compound-dwelling survivalists and libertarians started moving in a lockstep migratory formation with baby-boomer burn-outs, cyberpunks and 1st-gen cryptohippies. And look how that turned out: the Internet is starting to increasingly resemble an enormous global mall, while various US government factions and media-streaming cabals try and arm-wrestle one another for control of an infrastructure that they never even built. Most people have never even heard of the Free Internet Movement and care even less as long as they can get Sky Sport for £19.99 a month or gamble on their tablets.
Everything ultimately becomes, I dunno, an opportunity for the same people - or the Sandford-educated children thereof - to exploit and make their first ten mil from. Optimism is quickly colonised by Shoreditch / Brooklyn skinny-jean 'entrepreneurs'.
There were similar waves of future-optimism in the post-war years as Modernism gamely marched into its second phase and industry switched track from manufacturing weapon-parts to refrigerators: the harnessing of atomic power, the conquest of the sound-barrier, of space... you too can own a durable Plastic Kitchen of The Future.
It's good that we seem to be moving towards the outer-suburbs of post-modernism and the notion of futurity is being embraced once again, but I'm suspicious of what - and who - are driving these narratives forward. It's starting to feel increasingly like hollow HTML column-filling and as much as - like David Duchovny - I want to believe (especially in a future full of co-operatively-owned printer-workshops and small-town corner make-places - an ideal that's tough to sell to myself when I see libraries and public facilities closing down wholesale...) I'm increasingly starting to not buy-in to this story.
Admit it - who do you know who can afford to buy - let alone actually owns - a 3D-printer?
The people who might need them the most will be those with the least access to the technology - and to the education needed to even understand or use it.
So, technologies like this tend to initially pool in-amongst well-heeled early-adopters - or (you guessed it!) corporations who contain clusters of ambitious technology-literate employees.
Another stopper of mass-adoption is what I call the Temporal Economy: in a world where effort is increasingly (and brutally) offsourced onto individuals and you're expected to do everything from pay your taxes and utility-bills on-line to banking, shopping and communicating with your kids' school via a remote goat-staring app on top of holding down one - OR MORE! - jobs to make a basic crust AN-N-ND coping with childcare... well, who the fuck amongst even the most sharp-elbowed self-sufficent m/classes has got the time to 3D-print a washer for a leaking tap? I mean, really...?
(Unless those pesky algorhythms really do put 60% of careers on Death Row. But, you know, didn't that narrative get trotted out too during the Industrial Revolution and the advent of affordable desk-top computing?)
Still, there are some interesting ideas in this piece. I particularly like this one: "In a bid to survive, places like Walmart and Best Buy will begin to offer stuff as a subscription... you'll get 200 lbs. of goods per year for a monthly fee of $19.99." Ha! - okay, so your house will become the New Landfill. Quadcopter-drones landing monthly on your drive delivering kilos of toilet-brushes, iPhone cases, plastic washers, soap-holders, pedal-bin components - all that shit you really need in order to survive the Singularity - Plastikdreck, Poundshop Objectkipple.
Wait: doesn't this just sound like Capitalism 3.0 (or 3.9 .. or 4.0.1 .. or... or...)?: the bulk-airlifting of junk. Industrial-scale carpetbombing of crap. The only futurism here, maybe, is the bulking up of the distribution network (Gosh, now which businesses could benefit from that? *strokes chin*) and the reduction of break-of-bulk-points down to atom-thin nano-slivver margins.
Here's my take on 3D-printing as Potential Disruptor of Classical Model Corporatism: why not just reuse the crap that other people throw away?
It's cheaper - free, in many cases - and you still get to cut those Old-fashioned 20th century dinocorps outa the picture.