A New Mode of Digital Production By Grace Lee Boggs


A New Mode of Digital Production

By Grace Lee Boggs

March 2-9 2013

glb_dugal2In his February 12 State of the Union address, President Obama referred, almost in passing, to the potential in 3D printing to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.

 The following week, on February 21, the Home section of the New York Times featured a fascinating article about “A Factory on your Kitchen Counter.”

In this period of double digit joblessness, I hope that these two references to a new mode of digital production will encourage every concerned citizen to begin exploring how to implement it in our workplaces and communities.

Implementing digital production in our communities at this time on the clock of the world can be as profound and far-reaching as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture 11,000 years ago and from agriculture industry four hundred years ago.

In his best-selling book The Third Wave Alvin Toffler views a digital mode of production as the basis of a “prosumer economy” because it makes possible local production in small, medium and large quantities as needed.

A prosumer economy provides a local, consumer/community-initiated and consumer/community-controlled alternative to the globalized production which in the last few decades has been impoverishing and devastating our communities and cities while expanding and enriching corporations like Walmart.


To begin our understanding and exploration of digital production we need to distinguish between “additive“ and “subtractive” manufacturing. Wikipedia explains the distinction:

“Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making a 3 dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model.” It differs from today’s manufacturing process which is mostly subtractive, i.e. relies on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling.

Additive production is known as Digital Fabrication because it turns data into things.

In his article “How to make almost everything” in the Nov.-Dec. 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, Neil Gershenfeld defines Digital Fabrication as “the ability to turn data into things and things into data.” He writes:

“A new digital revolution is coming, this time in fabrication. It draws on the same insights that led to the earlier digitizations of communication and computation, but now what is being programmed is the physical world rather than the virtual one. Digital fabrication will allow individuals to design and produce tangible objects on demand, wherever and whenever they need them. Widespread access to these technologies will challenge traditional models of business, aid, and education….. Many years of research remain to complete this vision, but the revolution is already well under way.”

Fritzhof Bergmann, University of Michigan Emeritus Professor, New Work theorist and community catalyst, has been helping rural African women to manufacture dry compost toilets and to build homes in one day by using digital fabrication.

In Detroit Blair Evans is engaging young people in digital fabrication/ http://www.incite-focus.org. One of Evans’ uncles was the late Rev.Albert Cleage aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna and of the Black Christian Nationalist Movement/BCN.


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