My worst nightmare—I’m sitting at the back of a small plane (by the bathroom), my knees up round my ears (because someone else with a bigger case got to the overhead storage before me), and a small child screaming its head off two rows down. But unlike a nightmare, this is reality, and waking up to a better life is not an option! What did I do to deserve this? The polite answer—agree to speak at yet another nano-meeting!
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that for most people these events are a welcome break from everyday routine; a chance to catch up with old colleagues, and possibly even learn something new. But spare a thought for those of us for whom the “nano-meeting” has become an unfortunate way of life!
By my calculation, this will be the fifty-fourth nano-meeting I have spoken at or participated in over the last twelve months. I think that puts me in the addict category! Having shared the platform with some esteemed colleagues—again and again and again—I could probably give their talks off pat, as they could probably give mine. And the really worrying thing—many of these traveling partners have tougher schedules than me.
As I sit here in my cramped seat; twisted most unnaturally in order to type on my laptop’s keyboard, I find myself asking: is the toll this incessant travel is taking on my health, my family and my by-now non-existent social life, the real “risk” of nanotechnology? And is the nano-meeting-carbon-footprint threatening to overshadow all other environmental impacts? And I must confess, the answer that comes back to me in my admittedly stressed state ismost assuredly yes!
So here’s my plan: I am going to call for a moratorium on nano-meetings—just until we know more about the “risks.” I thought about a voluntary program, with the slogan “just say no to nano-meetings”, and a network of self-help groups for recovering nano-meeting addicts. But I know the temptation to do just one more meeting would be too strong. The only solution is legislative action—and soon!
Bliss! No more working nights and weekends to get ready for the next lecture. No more burning the midnight oil to answer the day’s cascade of emails. No more shifting in my seat every thirty seconds as the next incontinent passenger squeezes past to reach the bathroom. Of course, it might make it kind of difficult to inform, educate and engage people on nanotechnology. But hey—right now, I’m willing to pay that price.
Well, having landed and tracked down the obligatory Starbucks, I can feel sanity returning. These meetings are tough and, contrary to what some think, most of us on the circuit attend them to be of service, rather than to indulge ourselves. They do hit hard on our families, our jobs and our time. But I think that most of us feel the effort is worthwhile, if the end result is informed discussion and action on developing nanotechnologies responsibly—as long as we don’t end up substituting meetings for action. And they do have their compensations… the leopard-print bath robe I’ve just discovered in my nautically-themed hotel room makes the whole enterprise seem that much more worth while. 🙂
This was written several months back at a particularly low point on the nano-meeting circuit. I still travel too much and spend too little time at home—as I write, I am looking out over a cloud-flecked North America from 30,000 feet. So much for good intentions! Maybe I’ll decline the next invitation. Maybe…
This post first appeared on the SAFENANO blog in May 2008