printerI wonder how many of you made any sense of today’s title? If you did you’re probably one of those odd people who, like me, span two very different eras of digital technology.

We are people who still think of computers in terms of Basic and MS-DOS, and will remember the horror of forgetting to park your hard disk before shutting down; yet we live very much in the modern world, at ease with technology that today’s ‘youngsters’ take for granted.

There is no comparison between then and now – even the most forward thinking of us old-timers would have struggled to appreciate the advances that have been made in our lifetimes and would never have even remotely considered as possibilities some of the commonplace technology that we employ routinely today. And we’re seeing advances that really were the stuff of science fiction, back in the day, becoming everyday reality.

One of those advances is the progress we’re making towards seeing 3D printing becoming an everyday commodity. There was a time when science fiction writers imagined machines that, at the touch of a button, could replicate any object placed within its scanner; and indeed, over the past couple of years, we’ve seen enormous advances made in this field – printers have rapidly dropped from clunky, unreliable affairs costing several thousands, to desktop marvels within the budget of anyone wanting to save their pennies for a few months.

Today it’s possible to print three-dimensional objects employing materials as diverse as plastics, metal, foodstuffs and even biological tissue. A printer unveiled at a recent technology show will even produce solid objects, intricately coloured, from plain paper, ink and glue, using razor blades – crazy stuff!

All of which raises the very real possibility that it’s only a matter of time before we have the facility to bring artefacts in a tangible form out from SL and into the real world.

Now, I grant you that this isn’t altogether a new idea – I’ve previously written about at least one SL designer producing RL copies of their inworld jewellery, using 3D printing. However, these are mesh creations which could just as easily be printed anyway, bypassing SL completely. What excites me more is the thought that this potential could be made available to the virtual masses.

dusk1_001Wouldn’t it be cool if your own prim builds could easily be exported and printed as 3D models? The possibilities are endless… You could build a model Spitfire, Ferrari or fairytale castle to your own design without any messing about with glue and tweezers. You could email your architect plans that they could print out in 3D and see exactly how you want your new extension to look, or you could create a diorama of your own little patch of SL paradise, to sit on your desk at work as a reminder of what you’re missing whilst you get on with the daily grind.

And what if you could go further, and 3D print your avatar and those of all your friends? Just imagine the fun you could have!

Of course, there is one – probably insurmountable – caveat, and it’s the same one that crops up time and time again in relation to SL. You see, it won’t be the technology that prevents us doing any of these things, but what will stop it dead in its tracks is the familiar spectre of IP rights. You simply won’t be allowed to download, copy or print anything, unless you own the rights to every bit of it… And I think that’s a great shame.

As time goes on, I feel more and more strongly that much of IP legislation is actually more damaging to creativity and enjoyment of the work of others than helpful. Certainly there is a need to protect the commercial rights of those who produce original works, but I can’t help wondering just how beneficial curtailing personal and private use of original or derivative work really is?

Then again, that’s a whole different debate… For now, I’ll just stick to wishing I could print off my own bit of SL for my windowsill, although I’m pretty sure it probably won’t ever happen. (But, then again, that’s what I thought about 3D printing!)

s. x

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
The Cure – Pictures Of You

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