My wife and I spent a few days assembling a tool shed last week. Yes, I said a few days…of our vacation…assembling (not building from scratch) a pre-made metal tool shed. Admittedly, do-it-yourself isn’t our strong suit, but we can read instructions. Well, OK, the instructions were translated from some other language and “clarity-challenged”, the metal panels were poorly stamped and dented more easily than the average pizza box, and the approximately one million tiny screws and bolts were clearly intended to be handled by the fingers of a five-year-old rather than an adult male. But other than that….
It got me thinking about the future of DIY.
Will there even be a future for do-it-yourself projects? There was a time when every suburban home had a fully-equipped workshop with table saws and drill presses and who-knows-what-else, to crank out lawn furniture, gazebos, rowboats, and even larger workshops. But then, in those days, people also repaired things that broke. When’s the last time you actually fixed something rather than just replacing it? Consumer goods these days aren’t meant to be repaired by the homeowner (just like they’re not meant to last past the end of the warranty period). Even the ones that aren’t filled with computer chips just aren’t designed for the home handywoman to take apart and put back together with no parts left over. So will we actually make things for ourselves?
On the one hand, the growing availability of 3D printing suggests we will. The price of 3D printers for home use has begun to fall, and will continue to do so as more competitors enter the scene. You can already get access to one at many libraries. In the coming century they’ll become much more flexible in the types of materials they use and the variety of objects they can produce. For now, anything large or complicated still requires that the parts be made individually and then assembled (hopefully with edges and holes that line up!) But that may not always be the case. Still, can it properly be called do-it-yourself if you’re just feeding plans into a machine that does all of the work?
There are lots of reasons that on-site 3D printing DIY might grow in popularity, and even become mandatory. As we become more and more concerned about dwindling resources and the impact of fossil fuel use on the climate, transportation of goods will become increasingly undesirable. Better to have things manufactured where they’re needed and from local materials. In fact, when the printing materials eventually come from the disassembly of other objects, it will be the ultimate form of recycling. Provided that the energy needs aren’t too extravagant, it could be a big step toward protecting our planet from further degradation, and that will especially be true as we become ever more mobile, moving our families around in pursuit of employment. Instead of bringing our things with us, we might recreate them at the new home each time, and perhaps even produce a whole new dwelling in each new location, as needed.
These days, when we need some new knowledge for a DIY project, we turn to YouTube. But in coming years we’ll be able to have interactive holographic mentor/coaches, possibly beginning with humans for hire, but eventually provided by sophisticated computer simulations. Virtual reality real-time teaching could be the best thing ever for do-it-yourself fans.
Needless to say, the ultimate expression of home manufacturing technology will be like the replicators in Star Trek, able to produce just about anything, durable or consumable, from energy or a supply of basic matter. Pretty dang cool, and whole lot better than fiddling with miniscule nuts and bolts.
Not really DIY, though, in the sense of actually making something ourselves.
I expect that, in spite of advancing technology, DIY projects will trend toward smaller things within the coming century, as shrinking energy supplies make individual transportation, and consequently suburban living, untenable. Most of us probably won’t have single-family houses—more likely condominiums in tall buildings—so the DIY workshop will become a rare indulgence. But there are other forces that might strangle DIY into oblivion.
Pressure continues to grow in an effort to make each of us into “consuming machines”, with advertising urging us to buy everything we can. That pressure comes from corporations (whose profit managers probably hate DIY) but also governments as they try to boost their national economies with domestic consumption and international trade. It isn’t likely to go away. A cynical forecaster might predict a thoroughly globalized world effectively run by multi-nationals greedy for sales and definitely not in favour of recycling DIY-style. Or authoritarian regimes that ban DIY because it takes jobs away from workers (and eats away at sales taxes, too).
It’s probably impossible to predict the future of do-it-yourself pursuits beyond the next century because the technology is changing too quickly. So my advice is to enjoy it while you can, and especially the amazing new capabilities provided by 3D printing.
Oh, and if you’re tempted to get one of those DIY metal sheds in a box…at least invest in some good earplugs so you don’t have to hear each other curse.