The Future is Fabulous: Digital Fabrication, Datascaping and Design Futurism
86 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020
Date Written: February 14, 2010
Consumer culture maintains an ambivalent relationship with the products populating our lives; we have feelings of both alienated discomfort and sincere love and attachment for our things. Our conception of production lingers in a turn-of-the-century capitalist mythology of industrial manufacturing, a vision irreconcilable with the clean modes of production familiar to information and service workers. Self-imposed ecological disaster and increasingly apparent social inequities demand a revolution in our relationship to stuff. Yet the global outsourcing of production, along with personal and cultural identities forged through consumption, leave us without the means to understand contemporary object making.
Enter “fabbing” (personal digital fabrication), a collection of intertwined - and still immature - production and information technologies. Fab promises to empower every person to design and manufacture his or her own products, though how this technology will actually accomplish such a goal remains fuzzy. The technological utopias that fab envisions project a completed futurist narrative, but offer only a few clues as to how we might get there. A development such as fab changes how we conceptualize production, and radically realigns consumer-product and designer-product relationships. Fabbing technology represents real-life science fiction, complete with Enlightenment-like progress narratives, tech fantasies, and shifting power relations.
To comprehend the changes this technology offers, we turn to science fiction and futurism - discourses that imagine utopias resulting from technological innovation. We envision new relationships to the material world, like the replicator in Star Trek: The Next Generation, a favorite touch point for fab’s inventor-evangelists. But these images and rhetoric make up more than fantasies; they drive technology development. These science fictions also offer new subject positions, from which we might act fluently in a complicated, data-saturated future.
“The Future is Fabulous” investigates fabbing in light of our advancing datascape (the mass of digital information modelling human behavior) and its effect on designing, buying, and interacting with products. It considers current trends such as targeted marketing and mass customization (selecting the colors and features of a Timbuk2 messenger bag, for example) as early stages in a trajectory leading to fab. The project seeks to understand the rhetorical, practical, and epistemological changes embedded in the emergence of fab, a technology that could empower both consumers and designers.
Keywords: 3D printing, fabbing, science fiction, criticism, design, futurism, datascape, customization, marketing
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