Tobias Hope Young


Iteration Two of Blue rabbit Project

Re-usable Pen

The idea was originally just a response to the question of what plastic object I would like to print into a world already overflowing with plastic objects. The idea came to me quickly; I would make a reusable pen so that I wouldn’t have to throw away a pen every month or so. A product that would not fall victim to planned obsolescence. This idea did stick with me while others rolled off. One day a friend of mine pointed out to me that if I was seriously interested in reducing my carbon footprint, which was my interest going in and still is, I should try to print out something else. For example my friend pointed out that I flossed with a plastic floss pick tool and every month I threw it away. “It would be more eco-friendly if you were to design a reusable floss pick where the only part of it that you would have to replace would be the floss part of it.” he said. I thought about that for a while. In a way he was right. It might benefit the environment more if I were to design a reusable floss pick, but as I said to him later it simply felt better to work on printing a pen. The reason behind my general feeling is, of course, much more complex. The reason behind my desire to make a pen instead of a reusable floss pick is due to the relative recentness of the invention of the floss compared to the invention of the pen. Floss was invented in 1815 (Kennedy) while the pen dates back to the ancient Egyptians (Danzing). The reason why this is important is because 3D printing technology is a somewhat recent invention and we need to understand that it can have everyday applications to our daily lives. In the United States 10-40% of Americans floss (Bauroth) while just about everyone in the United States owns, or at least has access to, a pen. Some might claim that with the advent of the personal computer that the pen will become obsolete but that argument does not hold up when confronted with the sheer practicality of the pen and the fact that it will be a long while before anyone can come up with any practical technology to completely replace it. By taking this age old symbol and 3D printing it I believe that we should be able to bring this 3D printing technology and the concepts and purpose that this pen represents, fully to the mainstream consciousness.

Another reason that I decided to print a pen was in order to fight planned obsolescence. As explained by Jeremy Bulow in his article “An Economic Theory of Planned Obsolescence”, planned obsolescence is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially useful or limited life so that it will stop being useful by no longer being fashionable, functional or it becomes obsolete after a certain amount of time (Bulow). As Lester pointed out, in the book Makers, that the iPod, amongst other products, was only made to last a year before it becomes unfashionable or stops being functional (Doctorow). This policy makes its appearance quite often in many industries from car manufacturing (Landes) to software (Planned Obsolescence) and it is a very profitable way to do business. In fact its roots can be traced back to 1932 where it was proposed in a pamphlet to be a means for boosting the United States out of the Great Depression (London). This policy is also incredibly detrimental to the environment because it encourages an increased rate of consumption (Guiltinian). This increased rate of consumption is detrimental to the environment because it naturally requires more resources to sustain itself. With global temperatures rising (Comitee on America’s Climate Choices) and the trash buildup of trash in the ocean growing to be as large as the United States (Marks) it is apparent that an alternative needs to be found.

A somewhat realistic alternative to this cycle of planned obsolescence is presented in the science fiction novel Idoru written by famed writer William Gibson. In the book they have a line of computers called Sandbenders which are basically your own customized computer that you could order for a relatively low price (Gibson). The beauty behind it was that it was made by a small group of people so that you could upgrade your laptop without having to buy a new one. In theory you would be able to take this computer apart remove an obsolete motherboard and put it back together and it would be able to work just fine. When I first read this I thought it was an incredibly naïve idea. I had come to this conclusion because in the book it is a small group that makes this computer software, computer frames, and its upgrades. The profits from this style of business being relatively small compared to that of other companies it is reasonable to assume that these people do not have access to factories for making new parts like updated motherboards. However after reading this book with the knowledge that there was such a thing as 3D printers and that average people could get their hands on them, and that in this technologically advanced future they would have found ways to 3D print computer parts, then the whole idea becomes much more plausible. However in our current time with the technology that we have now we aren’t going to be able to print motherboards anytime soon so I came to understand that we weren’t going to prevent planned obsolescence on that scale for quite some time. If we were going to have to start we were going to have to start somewhere much smaller. One object to start with would be pens. A pen has a relatively simple structure and was affected by planned obsolescence, although on a much smaller scale. The pen manufacturers naturally change the design of their ink well once in a while to keep people buying a new version of reusable pens. By 3D printing my own customized pen I would be resisting their system of planned obsolescence because I didn’t buy a new pen to begin with and when they change the design on their ink wells all I would have to do would be to alter the design of my pen and print another.

Looking back my idea of printing out a pen has come a long way from my original idea. My original question was what object was worth printing into a world already filled with useless objects? However overtime while investigating the matter further and getting feedback from other people I have expanded the question to being about what it means to make new things in a world that is filled with corporations trying to get you to constantly buy new things and what the impact of this new technology would be? What I’ve learned has helped me to understand the larger issues surrounding 3D printing and has helped me see the importance in even the simplest and smallest of things like my pen.



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Bulow, Jeremy. “An Economic Theory of Planned Obsolescence.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 101.4 (1986): 729-49. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.


Committee on America’s Climate Choices, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, and National Research Council. “America’s Climate Choices.” America’s Climate Choices. Committee on America’s Climate Choices, 1 Jan. 2011. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.


Danzing, Rachel. “Pigments and Inks Typically Used on Papyrus.” BKM TECH., 22 Sept. 2010. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.


Doctorow, Cory. Makers. New York: Tor, 2009. 33-34. Print.


Gibson, William. Idoru. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996. 137-38. Print.


Guiltinan, Joseph. “Creative Destruction and Destructive Creations: Environmental Ethics and Planned Obsolescence.” Journal of Business Ethics 89.S1 (2009): 19-28. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.


Kennedy, Pagan. “Who Made That Dental Floss?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Oct. 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.


Landes, Luke. “Resist Planned Obsolescence or Accept the Financial Consequences.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.


London, Bernard. “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence.” Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence (1932): n. pag. Web. 2 Nov. 2013.


Marks, Kathy, and Daniel Howden. “The World’s Rubbish Dump: A Tip That Stretches from Hawaii to Japan.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 5 Feb. 2008. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.


“Planned Obsolescence.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 23 Mar. 2009. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.