I recently came across this interesting video from PBS that takes an in depth look at the current state of 3D printing technology. I figured I would share this video with all of you and ask, what effects do you feel 3D printing technology will have on the formation of digital communities and social media?
What is now a ‘hot’ topic of discussion in the digital public sphere, new forms of cost effective 3D printing technology are opening up a world of possibilities for our future ‘gift economies’. A term coined by Wark McKenzie, he views ‘gift economy’ as communities which are formed through the interaction, production, and manipulation of information. With the addition of 3D printing technology, these gift economies now become collaborative vehicles which can move beyond the digital into the physical. While McKenzie states that gift economies make “the relation between digitally encoded information and the material in which you find it in” to be arbitrary, 3D printing technology poses somewhat of a contradiction to this statement. With a wide range of new creative possibilities offered to producers and consumers through this technology, the ‘digital form’ and ‘material form’ will become more closely related than they have ever been. While we often refer to the Internet as providing us with a ‘democratic access to knowledge’, 3D printing technology could also provide us with a ‘democratic access to commodities’.
This technology could become a vehicle supporting a level of innovation never witnessed before. It would now be possible for a group of designers from various regions of the world to collaborate together in real-time to have a product created almost instantaneously. This technology could also prove beneficial for individuals living in remote locations, who may not have easy access to transportation and certain resources. Granted they have a way to access the Internet, items such as replacement parts, tools, and possibly resources such as food and medical aid could be sent to these locations within a matter of seconds, helping save lives and increase sustainability.
As the video notes, 3D printing technology “is going to force us to think about, not only buying products….but how they are made”. Industrial designers or anyone looking to create a product can now bring that product to the market without any risk, allowing creators to become 100% owners of what they produce. This will also eliminate global supply chains as products no longer need to be transported in their physical form but can reach all areas of the world through the Internet.
As the PBS video effectively points out the world of possibilities offered through 3D printing technology, it make very little effort in addressing its possible threats and restrictions. Expanding on the topics discussed in my previous post Internet Piracy: Where Do We Go From Here?, policymakers are looking to stay one step ahead of this new 3D printing trend by issuing patents that limit the freedoms and possibilities of the technology. In October 2012, a patent was issued by Intellectual Ventures in an attempt to place a DRM system on 3D printing technology. DRM which is a term used often in today’s digital world, stands for Digital Rights Management and is implemented by large corporations to place restrictions on the use of digital content which they deem to be in violation of copyright or patent laws. In reality however, DRM is way for large conglomerates to keep ownership in the hands of the few rather than leaving it open to the public. Intellectual Ventures, which is a patent purchasing company, is looking to purchase patents on pretty much every particular aspect of 3D printing technology. Most likely backed by larger corporate interests, this patent proposes to place ownership on everything from the materials needed to the most minute details of the manufacturing process. Stating on their site that “we believe that ideas are valuable. We’re here to ensure a market for invention continues to thrive,” it seems fairly obvious that Intellectual Ventures is setting out to accomplish the opposite of that and capitalize off inventors.
While we can hope for 3D technology to provide a wide range of possibilities for inventors and consumers in the future, organizations such as Intellectual Ventures are looking to stint this process. With websites like The Pirate Bay already making available a ‘3D printing category’ on their website containing over 26 active torrent files, it is likely that we will see a dramatic growth in piracy as this technology becomes more affordable for consumers.