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A 3d Printer is an Open Door

Wednesday 6 January 2021 - Filed under Default

In 2015, 3d printing started to go viral. Printers came under $1000 and everyone who was crafty and technical-enough was getting onboard. Some enjoyed gadgets, others made art, most everyone used a banana for scale. It looked like a hell of a lot of Fun! So I bought one and and joined the party.

The benefits of 3d printing are bigger than a mountain of plastic thingamajigs.

-Abraham einstein

No doubt the doodads and contraptions that 3d printing makes accessible have been handy. A charging dock helped us charge iPads and phones in one tidy place. Oculus Quest and it’s controllers hang within reach on a custom stand collar. The old Wii and WiiU are nestled behind a TV that can disappear when not in use. These nifty hacks optimize space at minimum cost and are the first things I’d point to when asked, “What’s a 3d printer for?”

Then the pandemic came and the shortage of PPE was met with an army of 3d printers humming away in people’s garages and makerspaces, individuals responding where the authorities just couldn’t seem to. A 3d printer became a tool for self-reliance and self-determination. Some even use them (and similar gadgetry) to exercise constitutional rights.

In an economic sense, 3d printers create a kind of flexibility, that comports with coincidence of wants in the currency space. One reason money is useful is as medium of exchange, freeing trade from the awkwardness and inefficiency of barter. 3D printing means you can produce a prosthetic hand for your daughter, accepting whatever risk there may be, eliminating legal liability in the process, improving her life. Or you can create an accessory that fits your situation exactly regardless of the micro-ness of its niche.

One of my favorite stories about 3d printing, doesn’t involve any 3d printing at all. We had a trashcan with a foot-operated lid that suffered an internal breakage. Looking inside, I saw a part that had cracked and considered designing one, but in the end realized I could drill a few holes and use zip ties to mend it. We would have junked it, if 3d printing hadn’t helped frame the problem in the context of repair. 

If there’s a point, it’s this. 3d Printing, and I’ll lump in all kinds of “maker” tools here, can produce a lot of fun lifehacks and social media posts. Trinkets like cubes inside cubes and shiny fractal vases lead to infinite amusement. The greatest product of 3d printing however, isn’t all the stuff you can make, or likes you can harvest. It’s agency.

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2021-01-06  »  David Sterry

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