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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why 3D Printing Will Lead to Gender Identity Equality

The 3D revolution will change the way we buy nicknacks and paddy-whacks. But can it actually make our world better? I believe so.

I spend a lot of time on the internet reading stories that annoy me. Why would I do this? I think it's partly guilt. Because the stories that annoy me most are the ones where either 1) someone is being subjugated because of their unique identity or 2) they are falsely claiming said subjugation.

Take, for example, people who complain about movies and TV not having enough of whomever they are in them. On the one hand, there are plenty of examples of stories about under-represented people cast with a white male in the lead role. On the other hand, if you want to see more people like you in TV and film, there's no better time than now to just do it yourself.

One of the issues that plagues these sorts of writers is the idea that we force children to pick a gender identity based on what toys and games are available to them. Go to the store, and you'll seldom see a photo of a girl on a truck toy, or a boy on a tea set. Not to mention a pink truck or a camo tea set. Those combinations simply don't fit in with the identities our society has established for us.

Whenever a new toy is proposed that might break through these barriers, the cry goes out, "Nobody will buy this, and even if some did, not enough people will to justify making a pink dump truck." On some level, there is validity to this thought process. After all, in order to mass produce anything, there's costs for design and packaging, but more impactful are the tooling and die costs, the price of molds, the inventory of colors. If you can't sell 1 million of something, odds are you're losing money, and that's not a risk you can take.

Ah, but that's where 3D printing comes in. As people get 3D printers in their homes, and the speeds increase so that you can get custom items while you wait at the store, a whole new world opens up. Want to dress a doll like a soldier? 3D print it. Want a purse shaped like a truck? 3D print it. Want to get something your parents don't want to get for you? 3D print it.

And it's not just for toys. There are all sorts of products that would never be made due to inventory and costs concerns that will have exactly zero negative impact on sales with the advent of 3D printing. If it can be made in silicon, metal, or plastic, it can be any color you like. Color isn't the only option, either. Complete products can be developed with little financial downside when all you need do is make the cad drawings.

Of course, there will still need to be safety testing and so forth for some products, and that still costs money. But for items that could be targeted at girls or boys or other gender, racial, ethnic, or religious identities? The possibilities are staggering.

In fact, while I already believe that the ultimate end game of 3D printing will do more to change our industry and economy than the industrial revolution ever did, it feels good to know that it won't just be about money. It will also be about defining who we are on our own terms.

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