IRG 1-5: (Nano)Technological Enthusiasm and the Public Imagination

(Patrick McCray)


Paradigmatic histories of American technology have often noted that “technological enthusiasm” – often possessing a utopian strain – is one hallmark of the American experience. Nanotechnology is no exception. This project has investigated how public perceptions of nanotechnology were influenced by its connections with earlier expressions and advocacy of technological enthusiasm in the 1970s. We also considered the intersection of American technological enthusiasm with ideas about technological utopias, public imaginings of future technologies, and public policy. While some of these futuristic visions (including early forms of molecular  manufacturing and engineering) may seem unusual today, they were taken seriously at the time and had some degree of influence over public perception/policy. This story is relevant not just for understanding how new technologies are proposed, but also how the public and media engage, accept, and reject them over time. By considering a range of interrelated exploratory technologies, including nanotechnology, we developed a better understanding of how people imagined the technological future and how these expectations changed over time. This work will appear as a book c. 2012.