Small Wars Journal posted a interesting bit about Personal Fabrication.
Gershenfeld and the fellows at MIT created a process and toolset for general-purpose design and personal manufacturing. SWJ imagines these tools can be used to fix gaps in the logistical system by allowing front-line troops to design critically needed goods on the spot. Indeed, the military will probably use it extensively before it reaches the civilian markets. It can be used by NGOs in third world countries for the same reason.
But it will be really desirable by the mass of ordinary middle Americas.
Essentially, the professors were surprised to find that a large number of those interested in the course had nothing to do with traditional disciplines involved in designing and making stuff. Gershenfeld took his Fablabs on the road to a variety of settings — a low-income neighborhood in Boston, developing areas in South Africa, Costa Rica, and India, and other places such as Norway. He discovered that with a tiny bit of instruction, even people with no engineering backgrounds were able to conceive of and create a number of devices and contraptions to enhance their lives in one way or another. These ranged from the MIT student who created an alarm clock with wheels that had to be chased around the room in order to be turned off, to farmers in India who created a variety of means to better monitor their dairy production.
Glenn Reynolds makes the same point here.
I think that people underestimate the size of the market for one-off products that interest only their designers and makers (and perhaps a few friends or fellow enthusiasts in a particular field), much as they underestimated the market for personal computers.
FabLabs can revive the cottage industry. There pros and cons to all this, but the implications are more radically than we can imagine.
Take the personal computer. Today, the workers own the primary means of production. So much for Marxism.