New Technologies: Why Do I Care?

Photo of a 3D Printer
3D Printer

In an earlier blog (, I defined and discussed digital literacy. Its definition is “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” The digitally literate person “uses these skills to actively participate in civic society and contribute to a vibrant, informed, and engaged community.”

Of course, one facet of being digitally literate is the ability to use digital devices such as computers, tablets, and cell phones, as discussed in previous blogs. But another facet of digital literacy, I believe, is becoming familiar with the broader and ever-evolving uses of digital technology.

The assortment of new technologies is vast and ever-changing. Some of the more common ones are 3D printing, 4D printing, and the Internet of Things. The implementation of these technologies is revolutionizing the fields of space exploration, medical devices, and sustainable living, among others.

3D Printing

The Oxford Dictionary defines 3D printing as: “A process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many successive thin layers of a material: if you use 3D printing for prototypes you will simply be able to go to market faster.” Using this additive process, objects can be printed from metals, ceramics, plastics and paper.

To date, the technology has been used to print everything from simple everyday objects to cars, replacement body parts, materials for spacecraft, shoes, and even food. It is also being applied by the U.S. military and NASA.

The instructions used by 3D printers are digital blueprints for creating objects. This allows a user to design an object using 3D modeling software, connect the computer to a 3D printer, and then print the item. The process is slow and may taker hours or days to complete.

Because the patterins are in a digital format, they can be uploaded and printed on a 3D printer anywhere in the world. This could be useful for travelers; instead of carrying their clothing with them on an airplane, they could send the digital instructions to their destination and have the items waiting when they arrive.

Locally, the Overland Park Resource Library has a 3D printer in a makerspace it has created for public use. The machine has even been used to print a prosthetic hand for a third grader.

4D Printing

Now let’s take a look at the mind-bending technology of 4D printing. Developed at MIT in 2013, 4D printing is a much newer and less proven technology than 3D printing. According to PC Mag, “the purpose is to make things self-assemble when exposed to air, water or heat … A more dramatic goal is to have the objects oscillate in some fashion on their own. The 4th dimension moniker refers to the self-transformation.”

4D printing builds on 3D printing but goes on to create composite materials that can transform into other shapes. The materials may have the capactiy to fold, stretch or twist. This novel technology is likely to bring about dramatic changes in construction and manufacturing. The U. S. Army is researching its potential to develop cars that can change their structure, and additional applications.

The advantage of 4D printing is that shapes can be compressed into their smallest configuration and economically produced by a 3D printer. They can then open out into a range of objects that may continue to transform.

Although 4D printing has enormous potential, the practicality of applying it remains to be seen.

The Internet of Things

Google Glass, a pair of glasses enhanced by Internet connectivity and information display
Google Glass / Pixabay

The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to objects that are embedded and wearable and are able to send and receive data. Examples of some wearable devices are Google Glass, which offers Internet access and information display, or sunglasses with a camera in them. An embedded device is utilized in the Google Smart Contact Lens, which is expected to be able to measure blood sugar levels from the tear fluid on the surface of the eye.


As the technology progresses, it will become possible for human nerve impulses to interact with information. The devices we have today will become increasingly smaller and will gradually merge into relevant parts of the body.

Some of the applications of these wearable and embedded technologies include:

  • Sensors or chips implanted under the skin to provide medical readings
  • Apps that can remotely monitor activities within the home, such as locking or unlocking doors, pre-heating the oven, or monitoring the temperature.
  • Cities that use sensors and GPS data to improve the flow of traffic, or buildings and roadway that can send alerts when repairs are needed

As with all digital technologies, the Internet of Things will raise concerns about security, privacy, and the desire of citizens to maintain some measure of control over their own lives. Another concern is that the vast amount of data and the complexity of operating and maintaining it will cause another set of consequences.

Summing Up

If this brief look into the future of digital technology has piqued your interest, you can learn more by visiting the website links included in this blog.



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