The 3-D-Printed Christmas of Tomorrow (Will Be Terrible)

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 24 2013 9:08 AM

The 3-D-Printed Christmas of Tomorrow (Will Be Terrible)

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If that gift is 3-D printed, I'll cut you.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Last week, researchers at Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab announced that they had created a fully functioning speaker—complete with a cone, coil, and magnet—using only a 3-D printer. This is just the latest and greatest achievement in a burgeoning field that’s got tech geeks everywhere brimming with excitement for the future. Such technology stands to revolutionize many fields, including prosthetics, robotics, and even art. But I fear there will be an unfortunate side effect to all this 3-D printing, and no, I’m not talking about the ability to print guns.

Instead, I’m worried about what effect the proliferation of 3-D printing technology will have on Christmas, birthdays, and every other gift-giving occasion. Just imagine what will happen when people can create tchotchkes at the push of a button. Our shelves will overflow with key chains, miniature busts of celebrities, and things that look they came out of a Happy Meal.

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Worst of all, the techie in your life will refer to these gifts as “homemade.” People will fawn over the gift-giver as though he created Eve from Adam’s rib, when in reality he just downloaded an Elf on the Shelf blueprint from MakerBot’s Thingiverse. Printed presents will become the new knitted scarves and crocheted doilies—thoughtful, time-intensive gifts that kids are guaranteed to hate and adults will regift at the first chance. Common objects will suddenly be considered worthy of gifting simply due to the fact that they were made in a glorified Creepy Crawler oven. And worst of all, decorum will force you to pretend these gifts are cool!

“A 3-D-printed comb? Just what I always wanted!”   

Now, some of you will accuse me of hyperbole. You’ll say this is just another whiny Slate column about something that isn’t really a big deal. But then you’ll receive a 3-D-printed Statue of Liberty in an office gift exchange, and your brain will squirm with the white-hot knowledge that I told you this day would come to pass.

Brothers and sisters, we must stand and fight the influx of 3-D-printing machines before this gift-giving perversion is allowed to gain social acceptance. How will we fight the machines? I don’t know. Perhaps we can convince Anonymous to join our ranks and infect all the machines with a virus that turns everything they make into an artistic rendition of funnel cake. 

But mark my words, the 3-D-printed present apocalypse draws nigh. Alas, for some unfortunate souls … it’s already too late.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.