'Replyallcalypse' at NYU, and a 3D printing roundup

An NYU student works on his laptop in New York City.

Think of life's most embarrassing moments. In school, I remember sharing my supposition that tidal waves were so named because they were big enough to give them a title. Stupid, I know. That fifth grade class roaring with derision still echoes in my ears. Now imagine that embarrassment multiplied thousands of times. At New York University, a technical foul-up meant that that hitting "reply all" to an email sent it to 40,000 people. That's like a packed major league baseball stadium. 

It all started with one guy just wanted to forward an email from the school to his mom. NYU students soon realized that they could pester 40,000 people at once, some asking 40,000 people to borrow a pencil or if any of the multitude had a copy of the movie "Goodburger" they might borrow. Soon, it became an email chain so epic, it got its own name: "replyallcalypse."

Allison McCann, a grad student at NYU, wrote a story for Buzzfeed on the resulting Mount Everest of messages clogging her inbox. Others took the opportunity to criticize the high costs of higher ed, and still others sent angry missives asking students, for the love of Betsy, to stop hitting "reply all." Of course, there's a certain irony in that request. 

"In my favorite email on the chain," says McCann, "someoned said, in order to tell everyone to stop replying all, you have to reply to all of those people, and then you find yourself being one of those very same people you wanted to stop replying all. That was really funny to me; it was the most meta 'reply all'." 

This gets at a very real email design flaw. While the NYU problem's been fixed, it's easy for any of us to hit "reply all" without thinking.

"You should have to kind of jump through hoops to 'reply all'," says Farhad Manjoo, of Slate, who along with writing about tech podcasts about digital etiquette. "It should not only be not the default, but it should be something like where the software makes you do several steps, because that will give you a moment's pause to decide whether you want to do it."

Remember, people: Emailing is like driving an SUV or confronting a New Jersey brown bear: Sudden moves are not rewarded.


Some argue 3D printing is the next manufacturing revolution: Computer printers that go beyond flat images to squirt out three dimensional objects. But could it also start a revolution for a unique hobby? An engineering professor and a pair of student brothers at the University of Virginia have built and flown a drone made out of parts from a 3D printer. Along with quick manufacturing capabilities, 3D printing drones could result in design improvements. And, perhaps more importantly, tackle a current problem.

"It's the breakage effect" says Steven Easter, an engineering student at UVA who took part. "If you're a hobbyist flying a plane and you break something, you might be up a creek. But in our case we can just print out the piece that broke and swap it in, and it's done.

Now what about 3D printing in, not plastic, but wood? A mysterious inventor has come up with a wood-based filament for 3D printers. The unnamed inventor is so-far guarding his recipe like its the formula for Coca-Cola, but the resulting objects look a bit like they were sculpted from wood filler putty.

And you can go to the Apple store in New York. The Microsoft store, too. Now you can go to the 3D printer store. Printer company Makebot opened one, where you can buy 3D apples and tiny houses. Or -- instead of the annual holiday card -- why not print out and send a 3D version of your head? The newest feature in the company's store? A photo booth that takes a scan of your head and then prints you out a copy. 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...