My 8-year old decided he needed to do some TinkerCAD and printing last night. Except for the few moments where I sped the process along (we were encroaching onto bed time), it was all his effort. His younger brother then decided he wanted to TinkerCAD, too.
This was very gratifying because, just earlier during the day, I was discussing the future of 3D printing and 3D modeling with a skeptic who was convinced that only the rarest person would use the technology.
In our conversation, I drew parallels between the evolution of 3D printers to that of 2D (inkjet/laser) printers. He argued that 2D printers are popular because everyone understands writing words and drawing on paper; but not everyone "gets" building things in 3D, so 3D printing would never be popular.
At the time, I didn't get a chance to respond directly to that point, but I'm convinced that future tools will make creating things in 3D far more accessible. It's just a matter of time before that happens.
And, as I pondered that point, I remembered a story I once heard (in the late 90's) about the introduction of word processing to a long-careered secretary.
The secretary would complain about the extra effort to learn and use software that she didn't need when she previously typed directly to paper. That went on for months until the day her employer had asked for a half-page addition early in a 50-page document. Before the word processor, she would have had to manually reflow and retype the entire document. Instead, she was able to make her additions and let the computer and printer do the rest of the work.
The word processor was essentially a rapid-prototyping tool for wordsmiths. Only a small group of people used such tools at first. But with time, the technology evolved and became more accessible to a wider audience.
The efficiency and productivity gains alone made the tools worthwhile. But the tools also unlocked gains in creativity. And those with the tools had an advantage over those who did not.
Can you imagine trying to survive today without knowing how to use a word processor?
In the same way, being able to create things in 3D will become an essential skill -- because if you can't do it, you won't be able to keep up with your peers. New techniques and better tools will come with time, because people will need them. It's not a question of if. It's when.