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Generation Fabrication

youhavethepower.jpgTools for the design and creation of usable, compelling objects and works of art continue to get less expensive and easier to use. "DIY" -- "do it yourself" -- used to refer to people who had spent thousands of dollars assembling the right set of tools and equipment to be able to make things that were a cut above the run-of-the-mill garage hobbyist. Now a proliferation of digital technologies make it possible for anyone with even a modicum of interest and a bit of talent to produce works that, in some cases, can rival the output of major companies and stars.

The decline in cost and rise in capability of the DIY tools mean that limited resources is less of a barrier for people with big ideas and limited resources. This doesn't just apply to Japan, Europe and the US -- the same technologies that let people record DVDs of their child's first steps, for example, have enabled filmmakers around the world to produce commercial movies. Hollywood at Home, meet Nollywood Global.

We've covered quite a few of these tools for personal creation here, from fabrication-by-email to music production, and the mainstream media is picking up on the idea, too. It should come as little surprise, then, that specialists in branding and marketing have caught wind of this development. Futurewire points us to a company called Trendwatching, which has, over the past year, been charting the growth of the home creativity movement, or what they term "Generation C." It's a good piece of research -- but what they miss has the potential to be even bigger than what they catch.

The Generation C idea focuses upon the growing number of tools out there enabling individuals at home to create new media products and distribute them over the web. Movies, writing (via weblogs), music, photographic art -- it's now quite possible to get one's entertainment entirely from original productions from "amateur" artists. Trendwatching recognizes that the blurring of the lines between "producer" and "consumer" is entirely intentional:

The two main drivers fuelling this trend? (1) The creative urges each consumer undeniably possesses. We're all artists, but until now we neither had the guts nor the means to go all out. (2) The manufacturers of content-creating tools, who relentlessly push us to unleash that creativity, using -- of course -- their ever cheaper, ever more powerful gadgets and gizmos. Instead of asking consumers to watch, to listen, to play, to passively consume, the race is on to get them to create, to produce, and to participate.

Trendwatching then gives myriad examples of products and services intended to give people the opportunity to create content that can others can share and enjoy. To their credit, they don't just talk about GarageBand and Blogger (although both do show up); collaborative sites looking to provide contributor-made services, such as OhMyNews and igougo also feature prominently in the Trendwatching research.

Futurewire takes the Trendwatching information and adds its own ideas, looking at what this means for a culture of consumption:

With these trends firmly in place, middlemen are cut out, and it becomes economically feasible to pursue niche audiences. This in turn fuels a cycle of encouraging content creators whose visions and creations may not appeal to a mass audience, but who have something worthwhile to say nonetheless.

What Trendwatching misses (and Futurewire mentions, but doesn't pursue) is the rising ability to fabricate functional objects at home. Just as amateur musicians no longer require elaborate and expensive home recording studios to produce good-sounding music, amateur engineers are less-and-less needing to convert their garages into workshops. Already, services like eMachineShop and MFGquote (among many others) allow the production of physical, machined objects based solely on the output of design software. That software, in turn, is becoming easier for non-specialists to use. (Similar services are available for electronics.)

Having to send off email and wait for something to be shipped, something that probably then needs assembly, are big stumbling blocks to home engineering taking on the same visibility as home movie production. But regular readers already know what's coming next: fabricator technologies, allowing for desktop "printing" of physical goods. The ability to do this already exists, but such devices remain expensive; breakthroughs involving ink-jet print-head technologies look to bring the prices down considerably, and there are projects underway to make these devices accessible to everyone. A home "3D Printer" the size and price of a business laserprinter is probably not too far off. Further down the road, nano-factories, still a decade or more off, will be the ultimate version of home fabrication.

What I'm talking about, then, is a world where it's as easy to make interesting devices as it is now to make interesting music. A world where amateurs can swap ideas and designs around as easily as we now swap MP3s. A world where the disruption and changes engendered by digital technologies are no longer centered on the arts.

We've discussed what a fabrication world would look like in some depth, so I won't rehash it here. But when you read the "Generation C" research and similar arguments that the "DIY Culture" is here, remember that it's not just about movies, music, podcasting and blogging. Soon, the same claims and concerns will apply to our ability to construct our material world out of little more than novel ideas and good software.

Comments (4)

Wired had a good story this month on this very thing


We did a story on personal fabrication devices some time ago


Great post, Jamais - I'm really enthralled with personal fabrication. I'm an entrepreneur and I would really like some information about companies offering these services...

Does anyone have a complete list of the main rapid fabrication / 3d printing sites? Is eMachineShop the leading fabrication site right now? I'm looking to partner with a rapid prototyping company, so more info would be appreciated.

All my contact info is on my blog:


Noah G:

It stands to historical reason that this separation of producer and consumer has not always been so pronounced. While the arguement that large-scale creativity (parks, architecture, symphony) has always been in the hands of the few, it's evident that the only limitation of the masses' creativity was an open society.

It has only been since the agricultural revolution, and to a greater degree, the industrial revolution, with it's elevated scientific roles that this separation has become pronounced, that is, a rift in the ability of individuals to to whittle something more intricate or functional than the wizards.

Perhaps what this phenomenon represents is not a historical birth of this creative democratization, but rather a democratization of the specific wizardries that made the complicated processes elite in the first place.

Guys, great stuff, and thanks for reviewing us! Just so you know, the reason we didn't include fabrication in our GENERATION C trend is because we identified GEN C quite a while ago, and we focused first and foremost on digital content. See our MINIPRENEURS trend (published on September 13th, http://www.trendwatching.com/newsletter/newsletter.html) in which we (finally) add self fab to the mix. In a way, CUSTOMER-MADE is part of the phenomenon as well.
Anyway, love your site, please keep it coming!


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