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Often the things we take for granted in the present we dismissed in the past. We do not think twice about the computers we work on, the Internet that informs us, the jets that we fly in, the cars we commute with, and so many other modern conveniences. When these marvelous things first came into being however, it was not so obvious that they would be so disruptive or so pervasive.
When you read about the early days of personal computers, it is often the story of tinkerers and hobbyists. Jobs and Wozniak built clunky, rudimentary devices out of a garage. Gates spent countless hours tooling around a mainframe terminal at his school. The advent of the World Wide Web created a whole new slew of tinkerers passionate about new technologies and their possibilities.
These are the geeks and the outcasts and the nerds. They did not care what the naysayers and doubters had to say. It did not matter that they were dismissively called dreamers. For them, they did not think they were wasting their time. They were pursuing something they loved despite the negativity. It was the process of investigating and probing and discovering that mattered most.
That is why stories like the recent one in TechCrunch dismissing 3D printing do not matter. While it is disappointing that the technology blog that professes to be about disruption and innovation would publish such a criticism, in the end the tinkerers and hobbyists are going to get the last laugh. You see, it is often the doubters that turn out to be wrong.
It is easy to miss the disruptive trend when it is first happening. Because it is often the nerds that are leading the charge, no one pays it any mind. There certainly is some initial hype, but it usually fades quickly because there is nothing for the mainstream to latch onto. They need to see and touch something and thus it is hard for non-geeks to make the mental leap in how a novel technology could be important for their everyday lives. People are looking for applicability when that does not exist in the early days.
The reality of 3D printing is that it is not for everyone right now. In fact, only the most hardcore techie could really get into it and fork over the $1000 for the setup. Very few people can fathom why one would want a 3D printer in his or her home. But people said the same thing when the first dot matrix printers came on the market. They were clunky and slow and expensive and broke down all the time. Plus, who would want to print stuff at home anyway other than computer nerds? Now practically every home has a color printer capable of producing high-quality photos, greeting cards, spreadsheets, novels, and the kid’s homework.
There are plenty of things to be skeptical about, but never underestimate what the geeks are working on. When you get past the hype cycles of “next big thing” and look deeper, you find that all that tinkering and experimenting is leading to something that is pretty remarkable and world changing. It might be hard to see at first, but with a little imagination and time, those early experiments generally lead to entire new industries and to the next generation of great companies.
Earlier today, I posted a Jack Kerouac quote from the book On the Road that summed up well my thoughts here:
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
I will never doubt the mad ones, the ones tinkering and geeking out on technology, dreaming the big dreams, not willing to accept the limits or the doubts, never interested in the commonplace, but always digging and poking and building to make something bigger than even they can imagine. Those are my people, the mad ones that will change the world.