In the title of his latest book, Wired Editor Chris Anderson is clear that he thinks the maker movement will change the world. Enabled by a swath of new technologies, the hacker culture known for tinkering with computer software is moving into the physical world, giving rise to new forms of art, manufacturing, and industrial design. And as Anderson explains in “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution,” this union of Web culture and the real world could change everything from American manufacturing to business creation to primary and secondary education.
Anderson sat down with Slate editor David Plotz Thursday evening at a Future Tense happy hour at the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center in Washington, DC, to discuss the power of the maker movement and celebrate the release of his new book.
Of all the technologies driving the maker movement, few get more attention than the 3-D printer. Cheap computers, feature-rich smartphones, thriving online communities, and physical hacker spaces have all bolstered the Do It Yourself mentality, so what makes the 3-D printer so revolutionary? Makers cherish machines like MakerBot, but at the end of the day, as Plotz put it, they’re just “extruding some plastic doodad.”
“Let us not discount that extruding a plastic doodad is kind of amazing just by itself,” Anderson said. The 3-D printer follows a trend of new technology empowering individuals to create in ways they haven’t been able to before. Personal computers and desktop printers gave rise to desktop publishing in the 1980s, when anyone could write, design, and publish whatever they wanted from their home office. Then publishing moved to the Web, where centuries of printing technologies fused into a single “publish” button on a Web page.
We might not be impressed by these technologies today, but the impact they’ve had on society is undeniable, allowing bits of information to be shared more easily than ever before. The 3-D printer is the next machine to do that. It’s just that now, atoms are the new bits.
To illustrate the point, Anderson described one way his household has embraced the 3-D printer. His daughters wanted to get new furniture to put inside their dollhouse. Looking around the web, Anderson noticed that the available options were very expensive, that choices were limited, and that it was hard to find something in the right size. So he went to Thingiverse, an online community for sharing digital design files. The furniture hunters found a design for a chair they liked and printed it out in the color and size they wanted for no more than the cost of the materials....MORE