The Future of Everything is in Your Head

on July 3, 2015

I have chickens. You know, the kind that sleep in a coop in the backyard and lay eggs. Three chickens, three eggs, every single day. In the U.S., we have a peculiar relationship with our eggs. We keep them in refrigerators and all of the eggs in a carton — whether it’s six or 36 — have the same expiration date. The eggs from my chickens don’t have to be refrigerated and don’t all expire on the same day, because each day those three new eggs arrive.

I like order, but keeping eggs in order of acquisition can be a problem. Leaving them in a bowl doesn’t help and traditional egg cartons aren’t the best. In Europe – where farm-fresh eggs are the norm – families use egg skelters to manage the flow of their egg production. Though you can find a few of these contraptions on sites like Amazon – it isn’t called the Everything Store for nothing – good luck going to a local shop and grabbing the egg skelter of your choice.

Last week, I was sitting in my office thinking about how I really need to get an egg skelter (slow Monday, I suppose), which was almost immediately followed by a realization that went something like this: “Shawn, why don’t you just print one?” You see, I have a 3D printer in my office. I can print all kinds of things. I’ve printed replica skulls, coffee mugs, action figures, and everything in between.

Just like chickens were built for laying eggs, 3D printers were built for printing. When you have a 3D printer, you start to look at the world differently. You begin to see that dots can be connected, even the ones that might have always seemed difficult to connect. Things that seemed previously unobtainable are now – and in many ways, easily – obtainable. Not only can you get what you need when you need it, you can customize it to your liking, on the spot.

Recently, I bought a used vacuum cleaner on Craigslist. It was an expensive model but I got it at a discount because it was missing an attachment or two. My first thought when I saw the listing? “Oh, I can just print those.” Technology changes the way we see ourselves and the world around us. It creates new opportunities, gives us more options, and lets each of us forge our own path.

Sales of consumer-grade 3D printers have doubled since 2012 and they’ll continue to grow over the next five years, according to research from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®. This year alone, 3D printer sales will top $9 billion and, as the market expands, prices are falling. Printers that cost on average more than $1,200 in 2012, now cost less than $1,000. The more we realize and implement the power of this emerging technology, the more we print, the more the market for 3D printers will grow.

Early technology evangelists like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs envisioned computers in every classroom and tablets on every desk. Yes, that was a far-fetched vision at one time but computers showed us how to think differently. Now, 3D printers hold that same promise. From rapid prototyping to prosthetics to intricate culinary creations, 3D printers are changing how we do things and, most importantly, how we think about “things”. They are changing how we see ourselves and how we see the world around us.

Today, about 1,000 schools across the U.S. have 3D printers. That’s only about one percent of all our schools. We have a long way to go to recast how the next generation perceives the physical world around them. Some day, every classroom should have a 3D printer – teaching students to build, explore, create, and solve problems. Our future might depend on it. At the very least, our future will be defined by it.