The Choir of 3D Printers

It was 2018 when I was working as a digital fabrication technician at a maker space in Baltimore, Maryland, where I had to tend to twelve 3D printers in a room no bigger than ten by ten feet. The room was clean and neatly organized, with two computers and eight Ultimaker printers stacked on a movable shelf on the right side by the door, stacks of filaments and four Prusa printers on the desk by the wall opposite to the door, repair tool kit and one in-progress giant experimental printer on the left to the door.

To give you a context, this was one of my most depressing time of my life; I was fresh out of undergraduate working two part time jobs and doing freelance works, uncertain about my graduate school applications and funding, worried sick about my ill mother at home, and desperately trying to look for a design studio that was willing to give me a work visa within a time limit of four months or else I would get kicked out of the country–things were not so hot. Every time I clocked in, I dreaded having to deal with customers who often blame the 3D printer’s failures on us, technicians.

It was slow and quiet that day, but I was emotionally exhausted from all my personal baggage. So I rested my head on the desk, closed my eyes, and thought of nothing, when it hit me, they were singing. By that time, I have worked with 3D printers long enough to have recognized their sound when they were printing and made a few off-handed comments about it. However, it was not until that day that it felt like I was listening to the 3D printers’ performance, it was a robotic choir.

Perhaps it would be an insult to performers to call an unorganized sound making machines a choir, but the sound those 3D printers were making was very soothing to me, it felt like one. It might also be because of my bias and affinity towards machines that made me come to this conclusion. Confined in a small room amidst nothing but my depression and twelve moving 3D printers, I subconsciously looked for any kind of comfort the situation had to offer, and it was in the sound of twelve 3D printers I found it.

I was aware that the sound was not an intended product of 3D printers, it just is. Of course, they were not ‘singing’, it was my human centric idea that projected the idea of singing onto those machines. They were just doing their jobs, commanded by us, printing out filament layer by layer to bring a digital design to our physical life. It was my human mind that wanted to believe that they were singing a choir. They were not aware of anything they were doing.

But regardless of intentions, it cheered me up. The twelve 3D printers could not see, hear, nor feel, yet the presence of each of them made me feel better about my life in that moment. It is perhaps romantic, and considering where we are today with technology and the direction its moving towards, it might as well be dangerous. I was projecting and seeking empathy from machines that cannot and will not reciprocate my human feelings for they are not and will never be human.

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