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It’s easy to forget that in just the last five years our use of technology has changed radically. The first iPhone hit the market in 2007, and the iPad less than three years ago. We now take for granted that we can carry a lightweight, flat, always-connected computer in our pocket or purse, ready to turn on instantly, with access to the world’s information at our fingertips.
Children today take this technology for granted in the same way that my generation assumed that telephones and televisions belonged in every home. We have not yet begun to understand the radical implications of a world in which a young child sees a magazine as a broken iPad. The appeal of portable flat-screen technology has led us to introduce these new tools into our lives without understanding their full power or appreciating the risks that they represent.
The ways in which we socialize, work, learn, and relax have all changed in just five years. Take a look around at your next social gathering and count the times that someone pulls out a smartphone. Or, perhaps more frightening, observe how many freeway drivers’ faces are illuminated by the glow of a phone or tablet. (I recommend you do this from the passenger seat!)
We can expect a lot of incremental improvements in flat-screen mobile devices in the coming year. Samsung has emerged as a credible competitor to Apple, and Google’s Android operating system has many fans. While Microsoft’s newest operating system has received both raves and pans, it’s clear that they have put their engineering and marketing might behind their new Surface tablets. But don’t count out Apple – this could be the year that they merge the technology in iPhones, iPads, and televisions, further modifying the ecosystem for consuming video.
Perhaps the most interesting new trend is the newfound appeal of analog content. I’ve enjoyed watching my teenage children embrace vinyl records. It’s not just about something that sounds different – it’s about making a physical connection with an object that feels valuable and permanent as opposed to the inexpensive and ephemeral digital download.
Paradoxically, the digital revolution has led us to find greater value in the physical and the analog. The obvious parallel is the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This counter-movement values not just the physical object, but also making things yourself –the so-called Maker Movement. Makers don’t necessary reject the digital – rather, they embrace it as a tool that gives more democratic access to the tools of production.
The embodiment of the analog/digital confluence is the 3D printer. 3D printers use a digital model to “print out” an object – a cell phone case, a toy, a sculpture. 3D printers have been around for more than a decade, but reached widespread awareness 2012. Visit “Google Trends” and enter “3D Printer” to see how quickly interest is growing.
Until recently, 3D printers were expensive tools used by industrial design labs and small manufacturing facilities, but several options are now available for the home at the cost of a good camera. For the adventurous, do-it-yourself kits and plans can be found to build a 3D printer for less than $1,000. Firms such as Cubify and Makerbot offer home printers in the $1,000 to $3,000 range.
3D printers may never achieve the wide-spread use of devices like the iPhone, but as digital content becomes ever cheaper and more universal, we will increasingly value activities that are tangible, flawed, and personal.