Digital Access

Late last year, Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired Magazine, published “What Technology Wants”. It is a look at the state of technology and what is coming in the near and far future. Kelly plays the evolutionary biologist, casting technology in the role of growing organism. It’s an interesting read from a great technology insider. But with respects to Mr. Kelly, I have recently felt that “what technology wants” can be summed up in three words: “to be normal”. This sounds simplistic, but the trend of technology has been to start as a far-fetched “sci-fi” idea, probably developed by the military. Depending on the rate of success, technology trickles down to industry, research institutions, learning environments, and, lastly, consumer products. Once the consumer has it, it quickly goes from novelty to necessity. There is a “Darwin event” as some point, where a technology makes it to the public and survives, thrives, or dies rather quickly (especially quickly in evolutionary terms). But technology, at its best, becomes “normal”. Mobile phones, once the domain of Start Trek, is now a necessary tool to function.

Knowing the trend, one should take notice of two disparate yet tightly related new items this past week. The New York Times published an article on consumer-grade 3-D Printing technologies (subscription may be required). The article focuses on MakerBot Industries’ new Thing-O-Matic, a 3D printer you assemble yourself:

MakerBot Imdustries' Thing-O-Matic, a desktop 3D printer. $1299

From six-figure costs five years ago to sub-$10,000 versions in recent months, the 3D printer technology is now within reach of individual ownership. Like the computer itself, which was only available at research universities as recently as the 1970s, a technology which was not part of the mainstream consciousness has the potential to be an indispensable part of life. (At least a designer’s life…)

Don’t have $1300 to spend on a machine? No worries. The other development involves another ‘normalizing’ moment for 3D printing tech. Shapeways is a mail-order 3D printing company in the same model as the on-demand publishing company Lulu. You can upload 3D digital models and offer the design for sale to the public or use their printing facilities to print for your needs. What makes Shapeways particularly important for contemporary designers is not only the ease of upload and delivery, but the range of materials. Tired of white ABS plastic? How about Sterling Silver, Glass (Milky Soda-Lime Glass), Alumide (Aluminum dust), Sandstone (Full color options!), Stainless Steel (also in Gold, Bronze and other finishes) and Glazed Ceramics (just announced this week)? Many of these materials offer a designer the option to not merely make a prototype–a test version of a final product–but the actual final product. Sterling Silver Jewelry and food-safe Glazed Ceramic one-offs are now within reach. Check price info here.

Shapeways-printed Glazed Ceramics Vase

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