I'm long past the point in my life where I want more stuff. My goal is less stuff and more creativity—more exploration of making ideas and things without accruing more material objects. This comes after watching my parents shed their house and pare down and do more paring over time; my mother passing away, leading to my dad going through her stuff; then my dad finding a new partner and marrying and helping her comb through her house, bring her stuff west, and then move to a smaller house they bought together. And my in-laws going through a move a few years ago that required sorting through decades of meaningful possessions.
Lynn and I probably own less, even with two kids in the house, than we have at any point in the last decade. I no longer even need much office furniture, because most of the stuff I had used to be for filing and managing paper in some form.
Which is why it may be odd that I'm about to buy a relatively large object that costs a few thousand bucks.
My friends at Glowforge (Dan Shapiro, a founder, and Dean Putney, our mutual friend, who is a programmer) just announced something they've been working on for months. It's a relatively inexpensive laser cutter. While computer-controlled laser cutters have been around for years, there's never been one at the price point they're offering it—starting at $4,000 list, and 50% off that during a pre-order stage right now. (It ships in December.)
They used software to substitute for hardware, which is increasingly common. Instead of expensive parts, a camera and cleverness can produce results to the desired degree of precision. They also are offering a very high degree of control over beam intensity, which allows engraving and etching all the way down to cutting. The camera in the unit automatically recognizes lots of materials, and streams a picture of what it's doing while it's engaged in its task. (It also takes a picture of you when you open the bay when it's done!)
It can cut and engrave a huge range of materials: paper, metal, stone, acrylic, leather…and chocolate, nori, and other foods. Watch the video and browse the site. It's amazing.
When Dan first showed me a video months ago of what Glowforge would do, I was genuinely blown away. I'm an old, cynical, grizzled tech veteran. I've seen so many useless products that are hammers in search of nails. There's little I've seen introduced in recent years that I feel is truly useful. It may be more efficient, more fun, smaller, and so forth. But Glowforge falls into a different category: it's a creativity amplifier, whether for personal hobbies or for professional purposes.
Many hand crafts involve a lot of drudgery. I've learned many of them earlier in life. I made houses for my model railroad. I did shop class and theater arts, and can sew and build sets. I was a typesetter (both hand and digital), and letterpress printer. I was an art major in graphic design and spent a lot of time working with my hands to create things.
Many of the things I've been interested in, and many parts of arts and crafts, involve repetitive cutting from templates or precise placement of holes or removals. This work often requires enormous training, but the point is to produce a precisely, often identical result. The work represents typically taking and working with those repetitive elements.
I found my aptitude lies in digital things. My hand and eye coordination are such that I put tens of thousands of hours into working on computer-aided design, compared to thousands on hand work.
Glowforge is a glue between my digital and analog interests. It's an amplifier, in that it lets me focus my hand abilities on the stuff that's most interesting, while using a digitally connected tool to bypass the frustrating part that I never mastered or don't have the time (and, honestly, often the interest) in mastering—because the outcome is making something that's better made by a machine. It removes none of the creativity for the kinds of things I'm interested in.
I'm getting one and I can't wait to start taking half-formed ideas in my head and turn them into meaningful work. This is the same feeling I had when I bought a mirrorless digital camera a few years ago: it recaptured so much of the joy and control I had with analog, but bolstered me up, too.
(If you use my referral URL, you get $100 off on the pre-order price, and I get a $100 rebate, too.)