by John Q on August 13, 2014

The NY Times is running a debate on whether (home) 3-D printers are the Next Big Thing. My guess is not, partly for reasons advanced in the debate (making plastic shapes is limited, handling other materials is messy and dangerous) and partly from the observation that home 2-D printers have proved pretty much transitory. I suppose most people have one or two sitting around, but I only use mine when someone makes a mistake: typically sending me a non-editable PDF that needs to be printed out, filled in, signed and scanned. This happens rarely enough that I usually need to download a new driver, which is a real pain (honestly, after 30 years, we still need drivers!?). My guess is that if 3D printing becomes a Big Thing, it will be on the basis of same-day delivery from a special-purpose facility to which we send our customised product requests.

But what really interested me was a piece bagging out the paperless office on the basis that it was first predicted in the 1970s, but that US businesses are using more paper now than they did then. This struck me as probably true but misleading for two reasons
(i) the population has grown, as has the proportion of workers who deal with text in one form or another
(ii) the two point comparison conceals a rise and fall.

Point (i) is obvious. A quick check reveals that (ii) is also correct. Paper consumption peaked in the late 1990s and has fallen sharply since 2005. I’m pleased with this because back in 2007, I noted that the much-mocked “paperless office” was become a reality, and predicted that the trend would accelerate (reprinted over the fold)>

The myth of “The Myth of the Paperless Office”

The “paperless office” is one of those catchphrases that gets bandied about for a while, only to disappoint and eventually be used in a purely derisive way. As Wikipedia says, it has become ‘a metaphor for the touting of new technology in terms of ‘modernity’ rather than its actual suitability to purpose’. The death of the phrase was cemented by a 2001 book, by Sellen and Harper “The Myth of the Paperless Office”. Here’s a good review from Kirk McElhearn.

This book wasn’t a snarky debunking but a fairly sophisticated analysis, pointing out that a sensible analysis of task requirements could allow a significant reduction in paper use. But it was the title that stuck. No one would ever again refer to the paperless office with a straight face.

Six years later, though, looking at my own work habits, I find that I have virtually ceased to use paper, in all but a couple of marginal applications.

The office is still full of paper, but a lot of it hasn’t been looked at for years. For example, I have filing cabinets full of photocopied journal articles, and a good indexing system for them, but I hardly ever use them. It’s easier to download PDFs for all the articles I want on a topic, and read them onscreen, rather than checking to see if I already have a file copy. And I’ve hardly added any in the last five years, so it’s only inertia that keeps them in place.

There are still a couple of exceptions. For example, I still use paper in intra-office editing, where it’s easier to handwrite suggested changes on a draft than to use digital markup (especially as I avoid Word wherever possible). But I could easily do without paper altogether, whereas without email I would be crippled.

So, I wonder if I’m an outlier, or just on the leading edge of a broader trend. A bit of digging produced the finding that (US) office paper consumption peaked in 1999, and has been in decline since then.

The annual rate of decline (-0.9 per cent) is unimpressive in itself, but striking when compared to the growth rate of 5.7 per cent observed from 1985 to 1999, at a time when talk of the paperless office was particularly prevalent. Compared to the ‘Business as Usual’ extrapolation of the previous growth rate, office paper consumption has declined by around 40 per cent. My guess is that the decline is accelerating. Academic journals have nearly abandoned paper submission procedures for example, and I assume that similar things are happening in other lines of work. The disappearance of faxes is another illustration.

Of course, the “paperless office” myth wasn’t just a prediction that digital communications would replace paper one day. It was a sales pitch for a top-down redesign of work processes, which, for the reasons given by Sellen and Harper, was never going to work. Some uses of paper became obsolete long before others. For example, it was a decade or so after the widespread adoption of email that it became generally feasible to use PDF attachments (still a problem of you’re on dialup and some fool sticks a 2Mb glossy ad into their FYI circular!).

I’m interested in this story in itself, but also because of its implications for energy use. Just as with paper, there’s a widespread assumption that energy-intensive methods of doing things are essential. This is assumption is reinforced by the long lag between the point at which things become technically feasible and the point at which the necessary infrastructure is in place for their widespread adoption. For example, videoconferencing has been a feasible alternative to business travel for decades, but as long as you need to book a special building and equipment at both ends, it’s not going to happen on any significant scale. When every office computer has a high-quality digital videocamera attached to a gigabit capacity network, things might be a bit different.



Frank Blues 08.13.14 at 10:44 am

As long as there aint no paperless dunnies I’ll be happy.


Zamfir 08.13.14 at 11:42 am

I use a lot of 3d printing at work, and outside of the name I don’t why compare them to ink printers. They’re a new variety of small-run manufacturing tool, like a laser cutter or a lathe or so. Very useful for specific purposes, and the possibilities are growing fast, but I don’t get why people would need one at home unless they are hobbyist craftsmen.


Trader Joe 08.13.14 at 12:14 pm

Agree with Zmfir. The retail applications of the product are pretty limited. Some people might choose to have them, but more as an expensive novelty/gadget than something really necessary.

Commerical applications are likely to be vast however – it will probably never reach the pervasiveness of the standard copier or fax machine since there is little applicability for service oriented businesses – but any business that deals in products and handles inventory could likely find some use, particularly as patterns become more prevalent and material choices become more efficient.

3D printing isn’t limited to plastics in industrial sized applications…its only the material of choice on the table-top versions that seem to be capturing the current attention.


MattF 08.13.14 at 12:42 pm

The big paper users are bureaucracies, and lot of the bureaucratic paper use has been moved on-line. E.g., On-line forms, on-line tax payments, on-line databases, on-line library resources. I have a couple of file cabinets, but haven’t used them for years.


J Thomas 08.13.14 at 1:14 pm

If 3D printers were cheap and easy to program, I can imagine a lot of uses. There’s the problem that currently we use lots of different kinds of plastics with different behaviors, and current 3D printers can only use a few.

If it was easy — you lose the top to your toothpaste. You get irritated. You go to your printer and tell it to make you a new one. Whenever you remember to, you take the new cap to the bathroom and put it on the toothpaste tube.

There’s a crack between my stove and countertop, and things fall down it. I have to move the stove to clean the stuff up. If I had a gas stove with a bendable pipe connecting it to the wall, I couldn’t do that — after just a few times it would break. If I could fit a piece of plastic across the gap, I would have many fewer spills down there. I could pick it up to clean around the edges. There’s likely to be something in the hardware store that would work. But it needs to be 25″ long. Similarly there’s both a gap and a space behind my refrigerator that bigger things can fall down. 25″ long and at least 4″ high. If I could just draw a picture of what I need and have it made, and then if it isn’t quite right do it again, I’d like that.

Like everybody who has any thought for emergency preparedness, I have some headlamps. My children each have one on their bedposts, and there’s one in every go-bag, etc. A plastic clip on the headband broke on one of them and now it won’t stay on my head. I haven’t thrown it away since it still works except for that, but it’s an annoyance. It only cost $4, I should just throw it away and get a new one but I haven’t. Maybe the $12 ones last better. Or maybe it was one of the $12 ones, I’d have to check. I haven’t gotten around to doing anything about it. If I could just print a new part I’d probably get around to it a lot quicker.

There are likely a whole lot of things like that just in my house. Plus there are all the things I might make that might possibly make life easier, that I wouldn’t usually think of because it would be too hard. I can make stuff out of wood but only the stuff that wood is good for….

Otle the Iceman had stuff made from woven grass. It was reasonably easy to weave grass, and the grass was just lying around, so any time he thought of something that he could use that he could make that way, he probably just did it on rest breaks etc. It could be like that. Only with plastic.


JM Hatch 08.13.14 at 1:23 pm

PDF help make for less paper, but consumption habits have helped too. Reading a book on a computer LED screen would be a form of minor torture to me, but it seems just being asked to read a book at all is torture for the connected generation. Ereaders and their eye saving ePaper displays are not for them, much less flipping through a paper report to get the one datum they wish to abuse.


Kenny Easwaran 08.13.14 at 2:21 pm

J Thomas mentions some points I’ve thought of. There’s a lot of household objects where one little piece can break and nearly render the whole thing useless. I have a vacuum cleaner where one plastic snap holding the body together broke – fortunately, gravity keeps it together while it’s in use, but it makes emptying the vacuum slightly annoying. I have an Ikea bookcase where one of the pegs holding up one of the shelves is missing, so I have to stack things carefully so it doesn’t tilt. Some of the spice jars have broken caps. All of these things would be really easy to fix with a 3D printer.

One thing I wonder about – if 3D printing becomes common, will commercial products become more modular, so that individual parts can be easily replaced, or less modular so that customers have to buy new ones instead of re-printing parts?

At any rate, 3D printers seem like something that no individual household should have to own – one for the neighborhood should be fine. But like lawnmowers and power tool sets, we may end up with a situation where every suburban house has one anyway.


AMereRodent 08.13.14 at 2:26 pm

On 2-D printing, all I can say is that mileage varies. Looking around me, this household currently uses enough paper to make a promising carbon-sink.


RSA 08.13.14 at 2:45 pm

I don’t see 3D printers making much headway in the consumer market. For hobbyists and DIY types, they’re great. For me, too–I have one in my lab at work, and we’ve printed lots of useful little objects for exploratory research in human-computer interaction. But more generally? As other commenters have said, it’s not clear that there’s a need, and given the state of end-user 3D modeling, I see an enormous gap between wanting some solid object for a given purpose and finding or developing a specification for it.


mud man 08.13.14 at 2:53 pm

I haven’t checked, but I’ll bet toothpaste caps aren’t interchangeable. (download the driver?) People who think weaving grass is “reasonably easy” and can be done with whatever stuff is to hand haven’t tried to make something actually useful and durable.


Pete 08.13.14 at 3:13 pm

3D printers are probably going to end up like regular colour inkjet printers: quite widespread but mostly unused, because the consumables are expensive and the drivers are a hassle and the results aren’t as good as just ordering prints off the internet.

The paperless office is very much a question of dependencies; you can’t remove a piece of paper from your process until the recipient is ready to receive it electronically. That in turn is a disincentive to automate that bit of the process.


David J. Littleboy 08.13.14 at 3:26 pm

“I’ll bet toothpaste caps aren’t interchangeable”

To be interesting, the 3D printing system has to come up with a cap for less than the price of a new tube of toothpaste. Unlikely, even if your time finding the design and running the printer is free, I’d think.

I don’t get the hype (or the response thereto) over 3D printing. Seems like a lot of effort, cost, and time to produce plastic doohickeys. Plastic is convenient, but it’s like, well, plastic. Yuck. Wood and metal and glass are way nicer.


roger gathman 08.13.14 at 3:56 pm

If paperless means less paper, than you are right John. If it means, as it was pitched, no paper, you are wrong. I don’t know, a pitch that technologies will cut into paper use doesn’t really seem revolutionary to me, nor irreversible.
I think it is a mistake to think of technological change as one technology “knocking out” another. Sometimes this happens, but more commonly, the change produces not extinction, but parallel lines of use.


David J. Littleboy 08.13.14 at 4:01 pm

“I find that I have virtually ceased to use paper,”

I still like to translate from hardcopy, and give a hardcopy of the original and the translation to our proofreader. This is a lot less paper than it used to be, though, since I’m semi retired.

Also, music turns into a lot of paper. (I’m trying to learn jazz guitar, and work from lead sheets produced in Band in a Box.) Some of my jazz friends have found iPad/iPhone apps that are actually useful, but I find that each song needs a fairly large amount of attention, even just in terms of chords, relative to what comes out of fake books. Classical was easier in that the composer’s pen was god, you just interpreted it on the fly.

I’m real fond of my Kindle, though. This being Japan, space is somewhat limited, and even with my new larger office, it’s nice that the light reading doesn’t accumulate. It’s hard to throw books away, and a lot of even my light reading is nicely printed. It is, however, irritating that most of the savings in production costs of e-books vs. paper books goes to Amazon, not the user. For 10% more, the paper book can be resold, lent to friends, thrown at a stray cat. You lose all that and Amazon pockets the savings from printing, stocking, packing. (You do save the shipping charges, though.)


Helmut Monotreme 08.13.14 at 4:21 pm

Additive manufacturing is a better name, I don’t really like the term 3d printing, it’s a clunky phrase that really only describes one form of additive manufacturing, but I fear like Wifi, webinar and blog, the neologism is here to stay. In any case, it is at the ‘dot matrix printer’ stage of development. I think that as the technology matures, and begins to use materials other than thermoform plastics, that it will transform manufacturing. Especially if equal effort is put into breaking down existing objects into feedstocks for 3d printing. Who wouldn’t like to be able to put a broken part into a scanner, have it scanned automatically and then recycled and have a brand new part (maybe even made with materials recycled from the old part) pop out the other end? Maybe they won’t end up in every home, but laserjet printers aren’t in every home either. I can totally imagine a day when every hardware store, every machine shop and auto care facility has a few machines in the back busily churning out replacement doohickeys to replace broken parts. It will never replace traditional manufacturing but it will complement it, and allow the production of parts that would previously been impossible to economically produce.


Tom Slee 08.13.14 at 4:52 pm

It will be interesting to see what kind of industrial organization emerges around 3D-printing (or additive manufacturing, cf Helmut Monotreme).

The “maker” folks are pitching it as a new wave of independent DYI hobbyists/artisans. Chris Anderson, who talks about in terms of democratization, mass participation etc.

It seems to me that the primary form is more likely to be the integration of small shops into the production systems of large-scale companies, extending a sort of “order-on-demand” model and downloading costs and commitments to customers and customer-facing people.


Bruce Wilder 08.13.14 at 4:56 pm

We’ve had computer-controlled lathes and milling and other kinds of whatever the opposite of “additive” is, for a fairly long time. Is there a short story explanation of why “additive” matters so much?


TM 08.13.14 at 5:05 pm

I have only in recent years changed most of my billing to electronic. I used to prefer paper bills to be sure not to overlook something but I changed that habit.

It doesn’t seem however that admail is decreasing.


The Temporary Name 08.13.14 at 5:07 pm

All of these things would be really easy to fix with a 3D printer.

Given plans. Working out the kinks in a 3D object is the kind of pain in the ass that most people won’t bother with. I’d do it, but most people give me funny looks when I talk about this sort of thing.


Trader Joe 08.13.14 at 5:10 pm


A lathe and milling creates something by taking away from something bigger.
Monotreme is describing 3D printing processes where the item is assembled by layering the base material until it takes the desired shape. Imagine building a sandcastle with a butter knife.


William Timberman 08.13.14 at 5:18 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 16

Complex shapes are often easier to build up from fluid materials than to carve out of a solid block. Modern devices can be lighter in weight, more compact, and often more efficient if traditional manufacturing limitations — cost, durability, etc. — on shape complexity can be overcome. Structural strength will probably always be a problem in certain applications — forged, for example, is often better than cast, as anyone who’s had a cast aluminum golf club head shatter on impact can testify — but we’ve had sintered rather than cast metal parts for years in places you wouldn’t expect them, such as in gears and cams. The acceleration in applied materials science in recent years has been truly amazing — turbine blades made from a single metallic crystal, with a structure aligned to the expected stress patterns, molecular films, heat-resistant foams, nanostructures, etc. Who knows what comes next?


The Temporary Name 08.13.14 at 5:18 pm

The additive process can manufacture objects inside other objects: that’s a big difference from carving.


mjfgates 08.13.14 at 5:30 pm

The Temporary Name@21 … Pretty much every experienced machinist has a spheres-within-spheres or something carved out of billet aluminum. That’s not really an argument against your statement, though; it’s only worth creating the things because they make other machinists go “whoa.”


Ed 08.13.14 at 5:39 pm

While I think John Quiggen was proved right about this, the dissappearance of paper was held up for two reasons.

The first was the invention of reliable digital signature technology.

The second was old people. Alot of older senior workers who couldn’t read on screen that well had to retire. And this was delayed by the baby boomer generation doing everything possible to delay retirement.

I still get asked to send faxes, and still work with people who insist on printing everything out. I’m also finding that I print things out at work too, to deal with computer clutter. The amount of bureaucracy was not cut back, so I often find it more efficient to print out something I need to work on in the near future and keep it on my desk, then to hunt for it amoung the thousands of emails and hundreds of folders I have to deal with.


Jim Harrison 08.13.14 at 5:52 pm

Old people only found it hard to read on screens because they were set in their ways. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it easier to read electronically than from paper because the screen image is brighter and the print can be enlarged at will. Other bookish coots of my acquaintance share my preference. It does worry me a tad that electronic forms of print depend on ever changing software and possibly fragile media or the dubious reliability of the cloud. Scripta manent doesn’t necessarily apply to silica.


The Temporary Name 08.13.14 at 5:56 pm

The Temporary Name@21 … Pretty much every experienced machinist has a spheres-within-spheres or something carved out of billet aluminum.

Where I work what’s being explored is materials within materials for medical purposes, so I should have been clearer.


William Timberman 08.13.14 at 6:07 pm

Ed @ 23

Alot of older senior workers who couldn’t read on screen that well had to retire.

A lot of this is habit and inclination, rather than necessity, I think. I’ve passed my biblical three score and ten, and only now, long past the time when it would have made any real difference am I finally able to do largely without paper, something I’ve wished for literally all my life. I dreamed of iPads decades before they appeared, considered licking stamps an abomination, the postage meter and even the fax machine among the dumbest inventions ever. Look at our amazing new square wheel, the office manager crowed. I just grimaced and went back to my cubicle.

Ah, well. Most of my (contemporary) friends are just as you describe them, or claim to be. One of my friends actually has three printers — one for black-and-white, ’cause it’s cheap, one for color when he needs it, and one which also faxes. I tell him that at least he won’t need reading glasses with a Kindle. Nope, not for him. He actually LIKES the pile of magazines stacked on the coffee table, water-rumpled pages and all, and books with folded-over page corners. He LOVES hunting for his reading glasses, or sitting on them inadvertently, and then taping the hinges until he can get back to the optometrist. And he’s younger than I am.


William Timberman 08.13.14 at 6:16 pm

Jim Harrison beat me to it, I see. And as someone who spent his career in a library, and as such, is well aware both of scripta manent, and the slow fire, I’m not so sure that digital media will prove any more volatile in the long run than paper, film, magnetic tape, or optical discs, barring the end of us all anyway. Even if I’m wrong, we can still print it all out on archival paper and stick it in the book museums, right? Yeah, right….


John Quiggin 08.13.14 at 6:51 pm

@27 The real problem with digital documents is that we create them all the time almost without knowing it, they proliferate like crazy, and it’s just about impossible to destroy all the copies.

For example, I have emails going back 25 years, multiply backed up on computers, hard drives, the cloud etc. God knows how many tape backups are sitting in university storage somewhere, and how many security agencies have their own copies.


William Timberman 08.13.14 at 7:07 pm

John Quiggin @ 29

Redundant storage in the digital world is notoriously cheap, and just as notoriously paranoiac, largely due to how godawfully unreliable it was in its infancy. Future archaeologists, unless their heuristic algorithms are light years ahead of ours, are more likely to confront a gigantic muddle than a failed search for the missing plays of Albee, or the missing cosmological treatises of Hawking. Fortunately, the aforesaid algorithms are very likely to be ready when and if they’re needed. Unfortunately, they’re just as likely to offer orderliness rather than sense. For that you need a literary imagination, which, it seems to me, is presntly more likely to atrophy than is our game theory.


ChrisB 08.13.14 at 11:40 pm

The big hole in the system, surely, is not the production end but the scanning end. We don’t now have a cheap workshop-size laser scanning turntable that will digitize existing solid shapes. You can’t replace your part unless either you have such a scanner (and the foresight to scan every piece in all your appliances) or (further down the track) the digitized shapes of the parts are put online by the manufacturer, like printer drivers now. When, for example, the Met puts online scanned version of its Daumier portrait busts so I can, for a fee, reproduce one for my mantelpiece, the system will have come together.


Maxlex 08.14.14 at 1:04 am

David J. Littleboy @12

We’re actually at the point you describe – for a limited number of people and objects. My local hackerspace charges 20c per gram for 3D printing, and for objects on Thingiverse, the process is as simple as download the file, load it in the printing program, click auto place, print, and wait. Of course, thats still valuing my time at nothing, and Thingiverse, while it contains a lot, doesn’t have anything like everything.

Bruce Wilder @ 17

Another difference between additive and subtractive manufacturing is that subtractive is messy – theres a lot of waste material to be disposed of. You really need to keep your CNC in a shed or workshop. 3D printers can go on a desk inside your house with no problems.


gwern 08.14.14 at 2:34 am

The real problem with digital documents is that we create them all the time almost without knowing it, they proliferate like crazy, and it’s just about impossible to destroy all the copies.

On the other hand, if you want to retrieve a web page from, say, 1998, there’s basically 0% chance it still exists at its original URL, a very small chance it exists somewhere else, and a sadly small chance it was captured by the Internet Archive. (I’ve learned this the hard way.) What we’re dealing with in digital documents is a shift: paper stuff tends to predictably decay gradually and be lost at steady rates; digital stuff doesn’t decay, but it fails completely at random intervals (either being lost entirely or the formats no longer are understood by running software), leading to bizarre situations where some sectors are preserved almost perfectly (any emails people kept backups of) and others are lost beyond a memory (lots of Usenet).

Anyway, the paperless office is a good demonstration of Amara’s law: we overestimate impacts of technology in the short-term, and underestimate them in the long-term. The people who took ‘paperless office’ literally were wrong… but the other people who mocked those people were also wrong.


Brett 08.14.14 at 6:53 am

We still use a lot of paper at my office, but I think it’s because we’re legally required to keep hard back-ups of receipts and daily documentation for a certain period of time. Some of it gradually seems to be migrating into digital storage, for which I’m incredibly hopeful – I’d love to just have all the backups be digital ones without ever having to either store paper back-ups, or store paper back-ups and then go through the laborious process of scanning and organizing them.

What I’m really hoping for with 3D Printers is a much cheaper, multi-use food printer. It would be a major boon to time-constrained folks who want to do more home-cooking if you could automate a lot of the food preparation at home, so they could use fresh ingredients and only have to put it in the oven after the printer is done preparing it. The key being “fresh ingredients” there, since you can already get something like this with frozen dinners.

@Tom Slee

It seems to me that the primary form is more likely to be the integration of small shops into the production systems of large-scale companies, extending a sort of “order-on-demand” model and downloading costs and commitments to customers and customer-facing people.

I think it will allow for much more local loops of resources and products. Stuff that goes through the recycling plant in your area could be sent to the 3D Printers to turn back into various products instead of having to be sent long-distance for reprocessing and production elsewhere. That would have some interesting effects on large businesses that do well because they organize crazy complicated international supply chains.


bad Jim 08.14.14 at 7:59 am

Doesn’t everyone want 3-D selfies? A line of adorable little figurines to line your shelves?


bad Jim 08.14.14 at 8:10 am

The messy reality of 3-D printers is that their output is rather crude and requires extensive reworking.

Suppose it wasn’t. How many of us would be as avid collectors of busts of ourselves as we are of photos? For tourists, certainly, the background is at least as important.


Zamfir 08.14.14 at 8:29 am

Bruce asks: Is there a short story explanation of why “additive” matters so much?

Other manufacturing techniques are not going away, and I do not know if printing (or additive manufacuring)wwill become big for mass production. For small runs and prototypes, there are many cases where a printed shape would be expensive or slow to make by other processes.

Examples: I design aerodynamic shapes in the computer. Fans, conduits, guide vanes, measurement holes. Such complicted shales used to be expensive to make, so you sould make a few test cases for experiments. Nowadays, I just print whatever shape I do not truzt in CFD, and test it directly.

Connections are also nice in printing: you can easily add a complicated set of aligning holes and notches that exactly suit your purposes and your pieces just click in place.

It’s also easy to make thin plates backed by stiffening ribs, even on an inside. Like a honeycomb sandwich. Those tend to be expensive to mill, and time consuming to build up from separate parts. In printing, such lightweight shapes are far cheaper than a solid.

Features deep within a single object, that would be hard to reach from the outside. Embossed identifiction numbers wherever you want them. Double-curved surfaces that cannot be made from flat plate. Cutouts exactly shere you need them to avoid intersscting some other item. Etc.

If you are a designer working with a 3d CAD program, there are many shapes that are easy for you to draw, but tricky to make in practice. Printing closes some of that gap.


Brett Bellmore 08.14.14 at 10:10 am

I have a 3d printer at work, on my desk. We use it to print out small fixturing, which either doesn’t need to work for very long, or needs to be non-damaging to any soft parts it comes in contact with. It has paid for itself in a couple of months doing this, as it can sit unattended running over night, while these items made in the shop by machining can take hours of expensive machinist time, or if purchased from vendors have very long lead times. For the parts this machine is suitable for, we’ve cut the (marginal) cost by a factor of about 100, and the lead time from weeks to hours. Next year we’re getting a second machine capable of higher temperatures, and thus a wider range of plastics. At that point we expect to be able to print out production fixtures, not just the temporary development ones.

For the home? Aside from some custom leggos I ran off for my son, nothing yet. Though I do have a project I work on over much lunches which is promising.


maidhc 08.14.14 at 11:42 am

My work has, over the last few years, gone over to a type of PDF that cannot be saved. Once the form has been filled out, all that can be done is to print it. There is no way to save an archive copy on your computer. Even more annoying is that in many cases the allocated field is not large enough to hold the required information.

I have taken to printing out a blank form, which I fill out using a typewriter and signing with a fountain pen. Bu I fear the subtlety is lost.


Metatone 08.14.14 at 1:20 pm

On the one hand, if I compare to my undergrad days, the undergrads I teach now deal with less paper in total. But on the other, we’re a long way from paperless. Technology is only just beginning to address some of the affordance issues raised by Sellen and Harper – and frankly some of the popular solutions that the Deanery are happy to splash cash on are pretty inferior to paper…

Boring details: Of course, we have electronic journals, although electronic textbooks etc. are more patchy. The big culprit is “Canvas” which is in so many ways “one step forward, one step back” for everything… Finally of course, we seem to be a fusion unit (here in 20 years!) away still from digital on-the-fly diagramming/sketching that works better than pens and paper or whiteboards…


Metatone 08.14.14 at 2:29 pm

Have to add one last bit of angry:

Moving to electronic journals has destroyed guest access.
Between contracts I’m not an employee, so I can only get guest access to the library.
Guest gets books and any paper journal indexes that haven’t been disposed of yet…

Given the drive to casualisation of the academic workforce, we’re narrowing access to knowledge dramatically.


Hey Skipper 08.16.14 at 8:31 am

If paperless means less paper, than you are right John. If it means, as it was pitched, no paper, you are wrong.

I’m an airline pilot. Six years ago, I used to carry 45 pounds of paper around with me in the form of en route maps, country regulations, airport rules, and arrival/approach/departure/taxi diagrams. On top of that, for each airplane in the fleet, add another 60 or so pounds of various aircraft manuals.

The aircraft mechanics had a similar pile.

And for all of those things, add the change pages to keep them all up to date.

Today, thanks to the iPad (IMHO, Steve Jobs most disruptive innovation) all of that paper is completely gone.

In my profession, John is right about no paper.


clew 08.20.14 at 12:13 am

I’m surrounded by middling-early adopters, but I’ve already found 3D printing useful. The various hackerspaces in town have 3D scanners (and Google is working on using cellphone photos for that) and, even more useful, there’s someone to hire or learn from who can take a scan of a broken part, alter it by requiring that two surfaces go back to being parallel (e.g.), and there’s your image of the unbroken part. Also, I’ve done some domestic things like the stove-gap-filler described above and am pleased with the result. (I could do it with traditional woodworking tools and techniques; it would take me longer to learn them.)

Lots of museums are scanning their solid holdings.
http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:24997 (and search for `museum’ generally.)
After the wars and lootings of the last… millenia, decade, year, wouldn’t you? It’s a poor second best but it’s shareable and back-up-able and we can send the records to the moon to outlast us. And someone’s going to come up with great new art, after some nice kitsch and some terrible kitsch.

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