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August 2011

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Two Decades From Tomorrow

by Glen Emerson Morris
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In 1994, when I began writing this column, predicting the future of our industry over the next twenty years was relatively easy because I could make certain assumptions about the stability of our climate, legal, economic and political systems. These days, the catastrophic failure of any one of these four is a real possibility, and the failure of all four is not unthinkable.

What is certain is that even if all else is stable, 3D printing and other digital manufacturing technologies hitting the mass market over the next twenty years will fundamentally change the kind of economy we have, and that will mean significant changes for the advertising and marketing industries. I'm sure our industry will survive, but how healthy the industry will be is another issue. With both The Economist and New Scientist magazines now predicting 3D printing "will change everything," I think it's time to start considering exactly how things are going to change, and how our industry can best adapt to the times ahead.

For those not familiar with the concept of 3D printing, it's simply the printing of real and completely functional objects using a variation of a standard laser printer. Objects are printed from a standard CAD file a layer at a time in a variety of materials including plastic, ceramic, metal, even living cells. It's the forerunner of the Star Trek matter replicator, and you can buy one today for less that $1000.

Even more amazing than the price is the fact that the leading amateur open source 3D printer is 90% self replicating, meaning it can make 90% of its own parts. Buy one, and you only have to buy 10% of the parts pre-made to assemble another complete unit. One of the goals is to make the printer 100% self replicating, which raises an interesting question. What kind of economy will we have when machines can multiply like rabbits?

So far, advertising has survived with or outlived every kind of economic system ever devised by man. We can probably manage to survive this situation, too. Let's take a worse case scenario and assume that by 2030 every home, apartment, condo, trailer, and pup tent is now 100% self-sustainable, meaning every home enables people to make everything they need themselves. This includes clothing, food, furniture, appliances, electronics, toys, tools, and things we haven't thought of yet Even this Amish-on-steroids environment would still have opportunity. Sure, there would be less jobs selling products to people, but there could be a substantial increase in selling people other things, like entertainment, the latest fashion designs, the latest artwork for the walls, the latest recipes.

Admittedly, anything like this scenario would be highly disruptive to life as we've known it, but let's consider this scenario in the context of the time in which it will happen.

We're going to be living in a different world 20 years from now. China will be the world's biggest economic and military power, India will probably be number two. Simply based on population size, the US will be lucky to hold the number three position. Many items American's once took for granted are going to cost a whole lot more in the future because the US will be bidding against China and India for the same limited resources.

Meanwhile, nearly all the major institutions we depend on will continue failing. Corporate scandals are routine, our politicians are owned by special interests, our economy nearly collapsed and the climate's going to hell. When a recent CNN poll asked, “Have you lost confidence in the ability of world leaders to tackle economic problems?” 87% responded “yes.”

It's not surprising that the movement for self-sufficiency is one of the fastest growing movements in the country. The most visible elements of this revolution are the Silicon Valley's Maker Faire, Make magazine, and the Tech Shop, now a chain of shops offering membership access to a variety of 3D printing and computer controlled manufacturing equipment.

The Maker revolution is changing the very nature of the American economy. Over the next twenty years, 3D printing will transform America from a capitalistic economy to a hybrid economy that combines capitalism and open source into something never quite seen before. In the economy of the future, many individuals, or Makers, will make a large percentage of the material things they need themselves using open source manufacturing equipment they own. For want of a better term, these people will be called “makers” rather than consumers, because they make more than they consume.

Realistically, 100% self sufficiency is unlikely in 20 years, but there's no doubt the digital manufacturing era will be well underway. The “Maker” consumer will depend on local small to mid-sized businesses for most of the things they can't make themselves. In twenty years, nearly every neighborhood in the country will have a shop renting time on 3D printers for people to use to make items larger or more sophisticated than their home 3D printers can make.

3D printers will also be available for commercial applications. 3D printing technologies will eventually enable small to mid sized businesses to provide 90% of all manufactured goods they sell. Car dealers will sell custom made cars, clothing stores will sell custom tailored clothes made on premises, furniture stores will sell furniture they make from locally grown wood. Within 10 years Apple will be selling a 3D printer named the iFactory.

We're at one of those epic moments in history when things change forever; the discovery of fire, agriculture, language. We have a real chance to permanently solve the most basic question we've all faced since the dawn of time. How do we get the things we need to stay alive? 3D printing can solve this problem. This is why the 3D printing revolution is so important.

3D printing won't offer the advertising and marketing industries the same opportunities as desktop publishing and the Internet did, but it may help keep human civilization going and that may be all we can ask for. We're facing difficult times in the twenty years ahead, and if it's going to survive our industry is going to have to do a lot of adapting. If it's any consolation, so is every other industry.

Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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