Dare to Dream
I am not a dreamer. I am guilty of understatement and rightfully accused of pessimism. Don’t get me wrong though. I am passionate about 3D printing and believe in the technology.
I believe in its power, potential and promise. I believe that there is massive growth in its future. I believe that amazing applications still await us.
Yet, I have distaste for overblown statements and over-hyped claims of what the future holds. But this isn’t a commentary on hype. Rather it is a recommendation on how to process the fantastic stories in a way that protects you while keeping you moving forward.
Hype can both inspire and jeopardise. It is a double-edged sword — one edge for optimists and the other for pessimists and realists. But don’t be fooled; both edges cut equally deep.
3D printing is enjoying massive amounts of media attention from mainstream publications and broadcasts as well as the social media stream. This attention is long overdue. This exposure elevates awareness and interest in 3D printing.
However, to make good TV, to engross readers and to have a cutting-edge voice, the tales are often embellished. The stories often ignore the ‘pesky’ little details. With ever-decreasing attention spans, journalists and bloggers cannot be bothered with the particulars. With so many voices fighting to be heard, a bit of futuristic fantasy is needed to lift one’s message above the others.
This is natural progression, according to Gartner, Inc.’s hype cycle. This model, developed over years of investigation, applies to all new technologies.
The hype cycle (see image) begins with the technology enthusiasts and early adopters where it languishes in obscurity. Then something triggers interest and the hype begins. It grows, exponentially, until it reaches its peak. This is followed by a steep dive into the ‘trough of disillusionment,’ where reality sets in and conversations are muted. After the hype, the practical applications take over and the technology advances to stable maturity.
The Edges of the Sword
So, hype is a fact of life in the evolution of technology. Yet, while necessary, it can put you at risk in two ways: you can accept the hype as fact or write it off as fantasy.
I know you are an intelligent, well-versed individual who can’t be duped. However, there is a tendency in many of us to believe what others, especially the media, are saying. If you accept the hype as truth, it can lead you to your own trough of disillusionment. When reality sets in, the disappointment may sour your perception of the technology and its applications.
So, if you were to dive into 3D printing expecting that you can grow production car bodies (via inaccurate blog posts about Urbee), airplane wings (per misreporting of EADS’ press release) or start your own manufacturing venture from home (from all the Maker promoters), the reality — when those pesky details are discovered — may make you a long-term disbeliever.
Sound farfetched? This happened in the 1990s when the media led people to believe that a full-size human bust could be made in seconds at the push of a button on an additive system.
The second peril is that the fanciful elements of the story cause you to write-off the technology or application. For the informed engineering and manufacturing professional, buying into the fantasy could happen, but it is more likely that you see the hype for what it truly is. You know that there is more to the story and you discern that it is not possible.
Doubting is good, but it is the second edge of the sword. Determining that the promise is impossible, you rush to judgment and write off the entire story. Having uncovered the fallacies in the story, you may ignore the gems… the truths that lie beneath the fantasy. Discounting the entire story will cause you to overlook the potential for today, the possibility for the future and the emerging threats of tomorrow.
Blunt the Edges — Hone the Truth
How do you strike the balance between blind optimism and unyielding pessimism? Simply ponder every story told and question everything you hear.
No matter how over-the top the story is, give it ample time. Enjoy the vision that is presented and absorb the intent. Next, question every detail. Uncover the omissions and flaws to discover the truth. Then, extract the facts of the story that may influence your short-term procedures and long-term strategy.
A balanced approach to the media hype over 3D printing will position you to leverage the technology to your greatest advantage.
Possible not Probable
As told today, the visions of the future are quite possible, but I believe many are not probable, at least in the near term. What is missing is the “killer apps,” the “I can’t believe we lived without it” applications of 3D printing. To me, it feels like we are stretching… desperately trying to reason out why every home and every manufacturer would want 3D printing.
The given is that 3D printing is an enabling technology. It enables people and companies by providing simple operation and easy access to a tool that grows physical objects. Just what it enables and how we will leverage it has yet to be seen. That tale will unfold as we move into the future.
3D printing is unique in its operations, diversity of applications and breadth of users. This means that there is huge potential, and with that promise, the hype is understandable. An amazing future awaits us, but what that future will look like is anyone’s guess.
So, keep dreaming, but keep your feet on the ground. Ponder everything and question where the facts really lie.