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.