Digital is more than the web – it could change everything round us

When digital tools have the potential to reshape out world, as Janjaap Ruijssenaars' talk showed, why should be obsesses over websites?

During the Makers session at NEXT this year, I was quite surprised to note a couple of people complaining about the content of the speeches on Twitter. When, they were asking, was the conference going to get on with the web stuff? After all, it’s a web conference…

Except, it isn’t. It’s a digital conference, sure – but the digital world has always been bigger than the web or apps that so many tech conferences focus on. The digital revolution can’t be contained in bits and bytes – it inevitably makes its way into atoms, too. Perhaps the most compelling example of that was Janjaap Ruijssenaars talking about how digital approaches are reworking our ideas of architecture.

Gravity is the thing that unites all architects, he said. It defines all buildings. And yet, it can be defied: a floating bed resists gravity with magnets. This idea was published in 2006. This year it might go into production.

How do you improve density? Improve the quality of the building. They designed a “tetris” house where the units interlock around each other to give all units equivalent views and a roof terrace, a process facilitated by digital design.

But where we really saw digital starting to recreate the way we see the world was when he started talking about the concept of a 3D printed house, they’re playing with. Suddenly whole new possibilities for the way spaces interlock open up, unachievable in traditional construction, but entirely possible with 3D printing. This is no longer cute gizmos created in the home – this is industrial scale printing.

As official blogger Neil Perkin of Only Dead Fish said about the talk:

What particularly interests me about this is that most of the focus on 3D printing is (understandably I guess) on the distributed manufacture of small, fun, practical or useful objects. But this is totally different. And the end result will be something quite beautiful.

Digital has the potential to change the physical world around us. That’s a profound thing – and something I hope the complaining tweeter got his head around before the conference was done.