Is 3D printing good only if it's active?


Maybe. Or maybe not.

Is 3D printing good only if it's active? /img/phatic-3d-printing.jpg

There is a paper about 3D printing, written in 2015, that discusses about the “ambivalent” emancipation produced by this technology.

Its authors studied how entry-level 3D printers were used in 30 different fablabs and makerspaces, in several countries, and were worried about one thing:

  • In those makerspaces “3D printers were very often used for demonstration, provoking fascination and encouraging a passive attitude.”
  • “users often preferred the fascinated passivity of replicating rather than the action of repairing.”
  • it is important to “privilege the idea of “disengaging” and the notion of “acting” rather than simply passively using”
  • it is important, that is, to favour “practices of repairing, fixing and adjusting, more than that of replicating”

To prove their thesis, the researchers present what they called the “keychain syndrome”: a fablab workshop that, to demonstrate the technology, made producing keychains with a laser cutter really easy “become a factory for producing keychains, and students refused to work on other projects” and thus ended up “valuing the product rather than the process”

To summarize, “The distribution of ready-made models calls into question the emancipation of the amateur by digital technology”.

Is this really, always bad? For whom?

There is no doubt that 3D printing, and “making” in general, can be just one more way to waste, as merely passive consumers.

I argue, however, that it is not necessary (even if it were possible, which is not) to transform everyone who ever sees a 3D printer into an active, actually creative maker of new, one-of-a-kind objects. I suggest, instead, that it would be much better for the common good if everybody:

  • were actively helped to understand the potential, especially for repairing and reducing waste, of these new “personal manufacturing” technologies
  • demanded new laws that favour running businesses using the same technologies

Forget about transforming everybody into a maker. It’s impossible, and is not even necessary to make the world a better place. What is needed is laws that allow small businesses to use 3D printing et similia to fix, repair, adjust and customize every sort of household product their customers bring in. You know, just like people bring their jackets to a taylor to shorten their sleeves. That is the emancipation to demand for everybody.

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