The Future of Everything is in Your Head

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.

Published by

Shawn DuBravac

Shawn DuBravac is chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association and the author of “Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Communicate.”

10 thoughts on “The Future of Everything is in Your Head”

  1. Early technology evangelists like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs envisioned computers in every classroom and tablets on every desk.

    Steve Jobs had no such ambition. Stop rewriting history.

    1. It is unfortunate that out of all you could have commented about regarding this post, this is what you found most important.


      1. The rest was hogwash I’m afraid, 8 whole paragraphs of it.

        Here’s an example :

        In Europe – where farm-fresh eggs are the norm

        OK, what the hell? The norm? That’s just wrong, false, ignorant, silly and just insulting really.

        Not surprising, since apparently the author feels safe in making up facts or ignoring reality as long as his metaphors sounds nicer. Which is bad writting in my opinion. He’s not writting fiction, you can’t just say things like that.

        And before you start yelling about how I don’t get the bigger picture, yes I do get it.

        It’s just not worth commenting on because it sounds like something written in middleschool as homework.

  2. I only have two concerns regarding 3D printing. The first one will be dealt with in time I have no doubt—resolution. Obviously some things have a greater tolerance for lower resolution and some things, like parts for vacuum cleaners can be easily sanded down to smooth out where needed.

    The second is IP/DRM. Not sure how it will manifest and how much can be done to intercede on either side of the coin. This is currently already playing out in non 3D industries—media and the sharing economy. People who make their living on the things we can print (particularly the ones who think in terms of control of distribution) will no doubt want ways to limit how, when, and what can be printed.


    1. My concern lies elsewhere. It’s when somebody prints a critical component at home –and you know somebody will– like an electrical fixture, and the thing is not up to code and burns somebody’s house down. Insurance companies are so looking forward to the age of ubiquitous 3D printing.

      Electrical fixtures, automobile brake and fuel line components, gas plumbing fixtures, the list goes on.

  3. I’m wondering if 3D printing is that much of a consumer technology, or, rather, something for the middlemen.
    I feel uninformed (haven’t made any effort either ^^) about possible materials. Can a consumer with a cheap printer make stuff that is flexible (fabric, sleeves…) ? durable (can I print dinner plates or silverware that’ll be if not cost-efficient, at least cost-justifiable for the fun) ? multi-materials (cables !)… ?
    From sparse readings, I get the impression that if you go for something more complicated than what could be made in Lego, you need skill, time and gear. Same as for my family’s favorites of wood- and leather-working. You can have a lot of fun with those, but if you want stuff that’s useful, nice and/or cost-efficient, first you need to classify your time spent as leisure (not billable), then you need the skills & gear to complete the trifecta… and money-wise usually even the bare raw materials cost more than a nice (not luxurious, but not shabby) store-bought equivalent.
    I can’t help but think that, same as for woodwork and leatherwork, 3D printing will be mostly done on our behalf by professionals or at least enlightened amateurs with high-end gear and good skills. Maybe the barrier to entry is lower, maybe there could be an Uber of making things ? Or will we really each be printing our own clothes, kitchen/school implements, computer doodads, food…

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