Kevin considers a future with 3D printing and petitions against the threat of out-of-town shopping centres.
The skies are darkening and The Terminator is coming. We are witnessing the dawn of the Rise of the Machines. At least that's what I think I saw in a barn in Somerset earlier this year. An entrepreneur called Edward Clifford has started Filafab, a company selling machines that can recycle old plastic into new filament ready for 3D printers. This is a virtuous circle indeed. He then demonstrated how I could make a new object from old bits of aeroplane tray tables using a printer which itself had been printed. Hang on... self-replicating machines are surely the stuff of science fiction and not a virtuous idea of any shape?
It got me thinking though. Ed is part of a new manifestation of an old service industry. Throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin was involved in print production; he trained as a printer in London and later, back in America, busily published not just books, but pamphlets and newspapers. The popular medium then was ink on paper. Throughout the twentieth century, those printed media changed from offset lithography to Roneo school printouts; from photocopying to dyeline architectural drawings; from fax rolls to digital displays. Those of us still romantically attached to the idea of producing proper drawings on paper will fondly remember the invaluable services of printing and copying company Kall Kwik – there was one on almost every urban corner.
And, just as every town has traditionally supported its printer and every neighbourhood its photocopy shop, what Ed was showing me was a future in which every community might not just print its own T-shirts, but print its own shoes, kitchen implements and tools. We already have 3D machines capable of printing in plastics, metal and even concrete. There are printers capable of handling multiple materials.
So this is my prediction... By 2023 you'll be able to scan a super-accurate profile of your feet using your phone (or whatever it's called then); you'll download a design that you've made on the Nike website or app (or similar) and you'll then print yourself a new pair of super-bespoke trainers in five different types of synthetic material on a machine in a branch of Kall Kwik at the end of your street that recycles old trainers into new raw material. This is the future of localism: no Third-World sweatshops; no ill-fitting compromises; no waste.