3D Printing as a Martial Art

Here’s a thought: similar to how martial artists strive to not use their skills, printmen should strive to not use their printers.

Why do I say this? Well, printing is based on the idea that we can make any object our minds can think of, to fill needs that aren’t so easily met by the larger market; moving fulfillment of the long tail out to the long tail, in a sort of lingo-speak. Us print-dudes* believe that this is a net win, that the costs of printing adoption and sustaining a printing public are less than the benefits of having more creative power and flexibility available in the goods available to the public.

So if printers are a good thing, then why the proposal that print-dudes try not to use them?

Back to my comparison with martial arts**: the master and the novice know that their art is a last resort. To think otherwise would mean an abuse of power, a violation of the societal trust that restrains people from using firearms to settle petty disputes (usually). The difference between the firearm and the martial art is about 10 years, assuming that martial arts are among those things that take 10 years to really learn; then, one can imagine that a martial artist would struggle with himself over whether to invalidate all the effort put into learning the art, versus settling a dispute turning nasty in the quickest way possible.

Now, what does this have to do with us print-dudes? Now, I can’t add up all the externalities, but I am quite sure that printing is not a net-green-gain. For example, the reprap*** runs stepper motors and a heating element for a couple of hours in exchange for one object. True, it is custom made, but that’s still a whole ton of energy for one object. The reprap has other things going for it conceptually****, but the point is that if we can go without it, we should. Better would be recycling objects: not melting printed parts back down to filament, but re-purposing ready-made, old objects, and scraps to fill functionality we normally think ‘3D printer’ for.

So my thought went something like that. Meh.

* I’m trying to figure out what the signifier for print-men should be: print-men seems somewhat sexist, and printer refers to the actual machine itself. Hmm…

** Note that I am not a martial artist. You should essentially assume that I am bs’ing this entire paragraph.

*** I’m building a reprap, no offense intended. Also take this as a plea to ignorance about the true power consumption of the reprap.

**** On a different note, printers like the reprap can help decentralize the economy to the point that regions can nearly decouple from each other. Maybe I’ll write on this particular vision later.