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"it slowly dawned on me that the landscape of science is maybe what interests people a great deal in science fiction."
- Gregory Benford

Toner  
  Dead bits of nanomachines.  

A mark of a good writer is that he or she not only creates a new world, but also takes the time to "age" it a little. The use of the word "toner," which most of us recognize from our experience with copying machines and printers, conjures up an image of a very fine black dust.

The "mites" referred to in the following excerpt are nanomachines the same size as dust mites.

"See, there's mites around all the time. They use sparkles to talk to each other," Harv explained. "They're in the food and water, everywhere. And there's rules that these mites are supposed to follow. They're supposed to break down into safe pieces... But there are people who break those rules [so the] Protocol Enforcement guys make a mite to go out and find that mite and kill it. This dust - we call it toner - is actually the dead bodies of all those mites.
From The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.
Published by Bantam Books in 1995
Additional resources -

This is frankly a more complex world than I wish to live in. The problem is that once this technology is available, anyone can use it. Not everyone agrees about following the rules.

To understand what is meant by "they use sparkles to talk" see the entry for lidar.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Diamond Age
  More Ideas and Technology by Neal Stephenson
  Tech news articles related to The Diamond Age
  Tech news articles related to works by Neal Stephenson

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