JEFF: You can get all the pieces separately?
JANE: Oh sure. Zillions. Many as I want.
JEFF: And they’re cheap?
JANE: (Scoffing) What’s cheaper than plywood?
And I got a laser cutter right next to my laser
JEFF: (Gazing at ceiling) That’s a new lamp up
there, isn’t it?
JANE: (Preening) You like it?
JEFF: It’s a giant fanfold thing made out of your face.
JANE: Yeah, that’s called “profile cutting.” The
barriers to entry are so low! I just downloaded the starter kit, put my face against
my scanner sideways, then kinda rotated
myself. So now the lamplight shines out
of my eyes, but in a tasteful rose-colored
shade of Perspex.
JEFF: You sell any of those?
JANE: My mom bought one.
JEFF: My mom’s my best customer, too. How
is Aunt Susan? I haven’t seen your mom
around much lately.
Illustration by Damien Correll
JANE: That’s because Mom’s gotten so deep into
the post-consumer alteration of all her IKEA
goods. It’s not just about the community
sharing of furniture plans — she is much
more into the remixing, the mashup scene,
you know, surface glossing, alternate parts.
I keep telling her, “Mom, that’s close to piracy!
You need to really master the tolerances and
the material behaviors!” But, you know, my
JEFF: She’s still way into Second Life, huh?
JANE: They call it “Second Retirement.”
Ponoko is super-friendly to makers, and one
naturally wishes them well. But my greater concern
is Ponoko’s cousin: that visibly heaving groundswell
of entities that are all trying to make real-world,
nonvirtual objects. It’s like there’s a kind of gnawing
hunger upon the land because all the heavy industry
has fled to China.
So we’re seeing a whole panoply of innovative
efforts, arising in a haze of neologisms. They might
once have been websites or think tanks, but now
they are “think-and-do labs,” “patching zones,”
“creative industries,” a “laboratelier” (I really love that
one, though it’s almost impossible to pronounce),
“unconferences”, “skunkwork foo-camps,” “
practice-based research,” “transdisciplinary collaboratories,”
“commons-based peer production,” and (as Ponoko
might slot it all together) a “place-tool-market
platform.” None of those seem to me to hit the
mark yet. But boy, they sure are suggestive.
They are a set of shaded Venn diagrams: overlapping conceptual circles. And at the core of that
overlap, there is a lot of white light. In 2008, it’s
still a hobbyist thing, a fringe activity, a prototype
and/or experiment. That’s where it’s gestating now
and sucking up its energies. When it emerges from
those verbal mists, it’s going to be strong, fast,
world-scale, and deadly serious.
Bruce Sterling is a science fiction writer and was the guest
curator of the SHARE Festival 2007 in Torino, Italy.