Businesses and theorists are always trying to anticipate the next big thing. In his 1971 book Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler hypothesized how technology would change the way we work, theorizing we would exist in a constant state of shock due to the incredible speed of change. I’m not sure we live in constant shock, but there’s no doubt that the rapid improvement in technology will not only change how we work, but also how we live. 3-D printing, in my estimation, is that “next big thing” that will both shock and benefit us.
Printers Changed Our World
Our current notion of printing is based on the Gutenberg press, invented in 1439, which used movable type, ink, and some form of paper to mass produce documents. Of course printing documents is still extremely relevant today, but as we move ever closer to a paperless world, will printing fall by the wayside? Definitely not.
Let me get right to the heart of 3-D printing. Someday we will be able to print a hamburger, a new finger, shoes, a jet engine, and a car, among other things. When that day comes, do you think work as we know it will be different? A better question to ask is: how different will life as we know it be?
When thinking about 3-D printing, you have to think BIG. According to Jack Uldrich, a global futurist and best-selling author, “Realistically, we’re going to be living to 100 and beyond. With bio-printed organs, living to 110 won’t be anything like living to that age today. We’re already printing skin, kidneys, even a replica of a beating human heart.”
Amazingly, we are 3-D printing physical airplane parts today, and not as science experiments. General Electric has a printing plant that manufactures nozzles used in jet engines, and they actually print the part on a 3-D printer.
There are skeptics out there, like Tim Shinbara, Technology Director at the Association of Manufacturing Technology in McLean VA. Mr. Shinbara warns, “I don’t want to be a naysayer, but these are grandiose notions we should keep at bay. Inventions like the computer changed things, yes, the world progressed, but we’re not living in a Jetson-world. We’re not flying around in cars.”
Back To The Real World
For those of us who still see printing documents, records, forms, charts, artwork, etc. as critical to our daily lives, we take note of such things as 3-D printing, and recognize its potential. But until someone prints out a real car, we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
Fortunately, technological change is slow enough that we do have a little time to adjust, but as technology marches onward, we all have to learn to embrace change and recognize the improvements it brings, no matter how large or small. The pain of changing is usually short-lived, and once we understand the benefits, it is easy to adjust and evolve. When it comes to 3-D printing, the potential benefits certainly mitigate the potential upheaval to our work and lives: no constant state of shock necessary.
Whether you’re on the side of the naysayers or the dramatic futurists, it’s fascinating to read about the newest technologies and speculate about how they are going to change the world. When the Internet was invented in 1969, who could have imagined all the ways it would revolutionize the spread of information, the possibilities for collaboration, and the workplace environment?
In the Enterprise Content Management industry we get excited about all the possibilities of content sharing, external storage, big data, and cloud sharing. Who knows if 3D printing will take off, but I’m excited to watch it unfold.