The 3D Printing Challenge: A Call for Ideas on How to 3D Print Our Way Out of the End of the World


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As each day progresses, more and more people seem to conclude that our planet is heading for disaster. While a substantial segment of the world’s population remains blissfully unaware or uncaring, a split seems to be occurring between the citizenry. One part will keep on doing as they were, brakes be damned. The other part is increasingly worried about climate change, pollution, and waste. At a time when we have access to more information than ever before we seem to be diverging as a human race about what the state of the world is. Since only very recently can we genuinely communicate as, a significant portion, of the human race entire. Since only a few years ago we have the technology to give a large proportion of us access to the truth as we know it. Alas, right as this happens, the very concept of truth is eroding. Purposefully or not the one view of our future, the one collective action that could have been has been shattered. We would be able to learn and say so much, and I’m sure that we would agree on so much, but we seem to agree on so little. Manufactured consent has become manufactured dissent. We seem so far apart. But are our values, needs, worries, and dreams that far asunder? I think not. We are all fundamentally the same; it is just that the narcissism of minor difference has become weaponized to the point where the very concept of a universal humanism and belief in rationality is under siege.

Simultaneously the knowable shareable truth, so close to being near-universal has been taken apart, a million straws to every camel. A possible, (and yes somewhat idealistic) reaffirmation of universally held beliefs backed by knowledge and communication has been ripped to shreds. In the debate between Orwell and Huxley, both are winning. Censorship, a reduction in press freedom and expansion in naked authoritarianism are on the rise abetted by technological tools that make terror and oppression scalable and available at lower cost. We have democratized repression while the free press has eroded the business case for democracy in line with the erosion of their finances. Big Brother also wanted “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Technology will not save us and has instead been co-opted.

While reports of record species die off and carbon monoxide levels peek from behind the curtains, far more news is available about a feud between two beauty bloggers over supplements and friendship. I’m increasingly worried that the end of the world will be inane. Parts of Wall-E and Idiocracy are starting to morph into some kind of new horror sci-fi. We think of comments or cataclysmic wars as ending civilizations. What ended the human race? A combination of video games, YouTube, and microwave meals. Here lies humanity brought to its knees by ennui. And thus human civilization ended, and they all played Fortnite and watched cooking videos while Rome burned.

I don’t want to seem melodramatic. But, realistically, just between you and me, we’re not going to turn this thing around. It’s the eleventh hour, we’re sailing straight for the iceberg, and the captain is asleep in his bunk. We won’t be able to save this planet, and things are going to go horribly wrong for those who are in the wrong place when the water either comes or goes. I’m afraid that this planet is a write-off, and this is precisely why the smart billionaires are diversifying away from the earth asset. But, I’m damned if any of this is going to be my fault. I know we can’t save the earth, but perhaps we can save ourselves from some guilt as we all go down together.

Just the other day I was talking about the above with a friend, let’s call her Martha. Martha mentioned to me that the reason why Notre Dame fundraising and beach cleanups work is that they are simple cordoned off affairs that people can understand and measure. A trash challenge is like an ice bucket challenge, a fun discrete thing that you can do to share that thing, experience, and emotion with others. So, since my friend mentioned this, I’ve been thinking non stop about a measurable “3D printing challenge.” What is a thing that every and any 3D printing operator and company can do that could ameliorate their negative environmental impact? What one shareable thing could we all experience that would negate our damage on this earth? As far as I can tell, it would have to be:

  • Visual: so easy to capture.
  • Demonstrable: the easy to capture image(s) would show progress and completion of the task.
  • Shareable: the resulting visual would be exciting and arresting enough to share above and beyond the goodness of it or the significance of your relationship with the person.
  • Do good: lest we forget it should actually do good. Net good means that spools and some recycled filament are all fine and dandy, but that’s like drinking a glass of water in a house fire with a morally superior smirk.
  • Go viral: to indeed have an impact, there should be some “many to many viral elements” that propagates it especially if some end nodes were found or if churn/events/vacations would lead to it not being spread in a particular vector.

So knowing that we can’t all agree on anything. Knowing that there is no verifiable truth that can be universally held; what can we as a 3D printing community do to have a net good impact on this planet? Suggestions welcome.

[Image Michiel Jelijs CC Attribution 2.0 Generic & Daniel Dalledone Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic]

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