From -ologies to Engagement

Living and working on nanotechnologies in the City of London I bump into a lot of people who end up asking what I do for a living. When I reveal that I am a technology entrepreneur (or technopreneur as I’m known to Singaporeans) people invariably get the wrong end of the stick. Just as some people assume nanotechnology is something rather different from what it really is, the word technology is usually short for ‘information technology’ in financial circles and most people assume that I have something to do with computers. When I mention public engagement with technology they shuffle nervously as if I had just revealed that I was a Jehovah’s Witness.

I’m usually happy with the existing definition of technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry but it doesn’t really make any distinction between Twitter or a steam engine. A partial solution is to use the phrase ’emerging technology’ which covers nanotech,  biotech and whole host of other -ologies but this tends to be debased by the usual consulting suspects who claim to be an expert on all things new and hopefully money spinning.

I suppose the conclusion is that despite a number of public engagement exercises, nanotechnology doesn’t seem to have emerged very much as far as the majority of the public is concerned and that people (investors, towel clad bankers in the sauna, men on the Clapham omnibus etc.) are far more interested in applications of -ologies than the -ology itself. As a result I have to wonder whether public engagement exercises are futile until we reach the point in any -ology where it makes the transition from being a science to something usable and easily understood by said public.

There is the argument that by the time the technology is applied to anything it is too late, but at least it stops people treating you like an evangelical weirdo.


Comments 1

  1. Joerg Heber

    I think it stems out of a disinterest for all things science more generally. After all, most recent start-ups came out of computer technology. To many, the question still remains why should we care? Let those geeks look for their “god” particles.

    Few realise that smartphones and iPods are only possible because of fundamental advances in physics (storage) and electrochemistry (batteries) for example. It is those who realizes this technology first who has the largest profit margin, not those who wait until science has fully made it into mainstream technology. In the perspective of towel-clad bankers in the sauna, there is I think a firm business interest that should get their attention, not some fluffy talk about the importance of science for the greater good that sounds too much like a religion, as you say.

    Anyway, hopefully one lesson from the present crisis is that in the long-term we cannot afford to leave those “-ologies” to the side.

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