Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Why the Nano Generation doesn't need us

Over the Labor Day weekend, my 12-year-old daughter told me, "Dad, nanotech is cool and everything, but your blog is kind of boring." She's probably right, and shame on me for taking an essentially "cool" technology (and my daughter does NOT use that word lightly), and make it seem so painfully uncool. That will be a challenge facing the U.S. National Science Foundation as it begins to introduce nanotech into K-12 schools.

My daughter then told me about all the truly cool ways that nanotech is already being introduced to kids -- completely independent of any formal attempt by the government, school system or news media to dull it down into classroom instruction.

The now-canceled cartoon "Invader Zim", wildly popular with the young (and old) geek set, featured an episode called NanoZIM, in which "nanoships" are piloted inside a character's body. The image above is from that episode. What's especially funny about the plot synopsis I link to is that under "Cultural References," it says: "The whole episode is obviously a reference to the film Innerspace. Ahhh, kids. I suppose Madonna wrote "American Pie," too. "Innerspace," of course, was a horrible imitation of the original Fantastic Voyage, the Isaac Asimov classic and 1966 movie against which every nanotech breakthrough, real and fictional, is measured. More screen shots of NanoZIM can be found here.

It's not only Zim that has made nano cool. "Batman Beyond" featured an episode called The Perfect You, in which teens use nanotechnology to enhance their looks (are you reading this, L'Oreal?). "But when the nanotech becomes sentient, it takes over! Can Batman stop the problem before it gets out of hand?"

And the "Powerpuff Girls" (a little less cool these days, according to my 12-year-old cool-o-meter) featured an episode called Nano of the North, in which, "The Professor shrinks the girls down to microscopic level in order to fight millions of nanobots, creatures so tiny that they are able to come out of a mysterious dark cloud one to a raindrop. But then, when the nanobots join together to form one 'giant' monobot all of six inches high, the girls are too small to stop it." Cutest quote, according to a fan site: "A bunch down, a million to go!"

And an episode of "Jimmy Neutron" called Safety First acts out the ultimate geek fantasy: Using technology to get even with bullies. "A bully has been giving Jimmy a rough time recently, and he's had it. Rather than go to the proper authorities. Jimmy creates an electronic bodyguard piloted by Nanobots." But, in classic Frankenstein/Golem fashion, "the Nanobots get a little overzealous."

I've also seen references to nanotechnology in Dexter's Laboratory, but I can't find a specific episode. Maybe a reader can point me in the right direction.

So, with or without special nanotech curricula, our kids are already getting a way cooler nanotech educaton. But I hold no illusions that this post will suddenly make me seem cool in my daughter's eyes. As she's told me many times before, "Dad, you're way too old to ever be cool."