Monday, December 04, 2006

Nano and Consumer Dreams

Tomorrow, at 2:30 EST, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies will feature a web cast. You can see it via this URL:

What might make this interesting - remember that WW puts out a great deal of materials, news clippings, reports, etc. on nano, especially with regard to EHS and risk issues - is that the topic is "what makes the public embrace and buy nanotechnology?"

I find this interesting as much of the focus thus far has been on the supply side - what is being produced, what are economic benefits, etc. This webcast potentially presents the story from a different angle - that of the consumer. Commodities do not appear unbidden on our shelves. Behind each one is some perceived consumer demand. And understanding what consumers want (and don't want) is one way to analyzing what gets produced. In other words, focusing on the interplay between consumer demand and industry response might yield a more complex and informative view of the nano-enterprise.

A follow-up on this line of questioning would be: what are consumers thinking of when they "buy nano?" Is it objectively better products? Or is it the newness, the novelty, and the sexiness of nano? And, if it is the latter, what is their vision of nano that motivated them? My guess is that underneath all of it is the glitzy, sci-fi, nanobot vision. Public imagination informs and shapes public policy. QED.

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