At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I do get rather frustrated with some of the hype (aka complete rubbish) that is spouted about 3D printing. However, I am not going to apologise for writing about it here on PersonliZe once again.
As you may have gathered if you read my first post here last week, excitement and expectation are two constants in my world of 3D printing — but they both have to be framed by reality. We’re all (not just me) prone to getting over-excited at times, particularly with the fast-paced new developments that occur on an almost weekly basis. Staying objective can be difficult, but it is essential. Excitement is good, it engages people; similarly with promotion to get the message out far and wide. But when excitement and/or promotion extend beyond reality into la la land — as I have seen it do even just this morning — the resulting unrealistic expectations and consequential disappointment becomes tangible and causes the 3D printing sector much more harm than good.
Jim has touched on this over on his blog, with the advice that you should take everything you hear about 3D printing with a pinch of salt. Valid point, I get it. Another individual that I wholly respect in this industry — Todd Grimm — suggested a similar approach when giving the keynote address at the TCT Live conference on 3D printing last year. I (inwardly) cheered as I listened to him back then, but since that time I have wondered if it is one step too far backwards, ie overly cautious? Just because I think that this approach suppresses the genuine excitement that this technology sector rightfully deserves.
Let’s face it, there are two main culprits for over-hyping 3DP capabilities. First, the vendors, no-one is going to be too surprised to hear they do that — most people realise it, probe further and ask searching questions to get the information they need, often from third parties. Spot on.
But then there is the mainstream media — this is harder to contend with! In the UK, the media is currently under investigation because things have just got far too unethical. I’m not getting into the specifics of that or I’ll be here for weeks, suffice to say it all comes down to power and money, which, IMO, should not be the key drivers for journalism, but are.
In the current media climate, sometimes, you have to wonder, do journos just pick a subject that is on the up (3D Printing is a good for instance) and just cobble together attention grabbing headlines with snippets of half-truths and out and out lies. This is not to tar all journalists with the same brush, there are notable exceptions, but they are far and few between. Talk to people on the street, and most of them will tell you they “don’t believe everything they read in the papers.” Sadly, most of them reading a technology review in one of the dailies, will absorb that information and assume it is correct. I am not naïve enough to think that this blog post will make any of them change or even research 3D printing more deeply. For the foreseeable future it is unlikely that the situation can be managed to our advantage, but what we can do is challenge them, counter with real information and facts and try and curb inflated expectations of what is a great technology base with huge potential for the future. That potential is slowly being realized and will continue to be slow over the next couple of years. That does not mean that great (and exciting) things won’t happen in that time, but in terms of consumers and makers, widespread uptake will take a while.
We have to bear in mind that the vast majority of the global population have not heard of 3D printing yet, let alone engaged with it directly. There are many that argue that most people do not, and never will, care about HOW things are made, so long as they can acquire what they want, when they want it. These people have a point — this has been the case for mass-produced products for decades. But I believe that 3D printing could actually change this. It is such a dynamic and engaging process in itself that offers the consumer much. I am not saying they will have the time (or the inclination) to get into the process engineering of 3D printing, but it has a fascination all of its own that draws people in — even the lay person. That fact, together with the offer of customisation of a vast array of consumer products with built-in sustainability credentials, is where the real and current potential of 3D printing lies.
The consumer age, and it goes without saying, we are smack bang in the middle of it, has seen a distinct move away from mass produced, me too products. Customisation — the ability to create things based on our individuality — and sustainability both incur a premium, but they are premiums more and more of us our willing to pay. This is real, this is happening now and 3d printing is a huge enabler for this.
There is plenty of reality to get excited about!
My own opinion on hype is that it does need to be challenged as it happens, that real applications that exist now need to be used more freely and widely to engage the consumer (easier said than done, I know) and get people talking and asking questions. So long as we — the 3D printing community & particularly the 3D Printing media — are there to support them (consumers), we can keep the expectations real while exciting them with what the technology can do right now.