Tooled up

vwOne of my favourite new headlines so far this year must be:

Nasa emails spanner to space station

And what a fantastic story it is too, one that demonstrates the incredible versatility and potential that modern technology is increasingly able to offer. Such a thing would have been completely beyond the bounds of possibility, a mere five years ago, and certainly wouldn’t have been envisaged by even the most far-sighted of science-fictioners of the past – it’s just a little too off the wall and, in many ways, not quite exciting or dramatic enough to have been on the radar. As with so many great innovations it’s almost an off-the-cuff idea, a novel yet incredibly practical application of technology, that shows just how effectively the impossible can become reality.

However, this isn’t the first time that 3D printing has made it possible to produce an object off-world… at least one SL designer has employed the technology to breach the gap between virtual and real by bringing her inworld designs into everyday life. Space spanners may be more practical, but real life SL jewellery is just plain exciting!

winged3_001Every one of us who has ever searched through their wardrobe, puzzled by a ‘missing’ item, only to realise that we only own it in SL would love to have the opportunity of obtaining the real thing; similarly, there must be thousands of talented inworld designers who lack the acumen, funds or skills necessary to run a real world business founded upon their passion and ideas, but would make a killing if they could capitalise on their inworld success by the simple expedient of 3D-printing their virtual designs. At the moment, jewellery is an obvious candidate for this method, but we’re already seeing printed shoes and clothes which – although very much a quirky niche market at present – certainly have the potential to grow and diversify as new and cheaper materials and processes become available. Just imagine being able to wear your favourite SL designs to a RL party, and possibly at a fraction of the price that a real world designer label would set you back.

Such things are not what SL was created for – we are so used to thinking of SL as a place where we can do things that are impossible in the real world that to discover we can port parts of the virtual world into real existence is a complete surprise, even shocking to us.

Why should this be? After all, we almost expect the fantastic and far-fetched notions speculated in books and films to one day become reality… teleporting, faster-than-light travel, robots, portable computers, self-driving cars, virtual worlds – none of us is really going to be surprised when the keys to unlock these visions of the future are finally discovered and most of us, I suspect, expect many of them to become the norm in our own lifetimes. So why is it so much more difficult to imagine that the ‘impossible’ things that are part of our everyday experience in SL shouldn’t become everyday occurrences in the real world too? Simply because SL is a future rendered in pixels and coordinates, rather than print or film, shouldn’t make it any less an indicator of what may be yet to come.

Perhaps we don’t want that though. Much of the charm of SL is the very fact that it is other-worldy and that much of what it allows us to do and be is very much out of the question in RL. It would indeed be lovely to knock up a pair of our favourite virtual boots in which to strut our stuff in the real high street, but if that was to mean that SL became less an otherworld – a place of fantasy and escapism – and more a 3D design package for budding Mary Quants, I’m not sure that most of us would be happy to go along with that.

SL and the things within it are special by virtue of the very fact they are ephemeral and not of this world. Take that quality away and we take away much of what many of us log in to SL for, and that’s a price that I think is far too high to pay.

So yes, by all means have your favourite virtual necklace rendered in sterling silver, but let’s not indulge ourselves too much… let’s keep some of SL sacred. After all, if every astronaut had everything they’d ever need at their fingertips, what would be the point of going into space in the first place?

s. x

I always wanted you to go into space, man
Babylon Zoo – Spaceman

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