Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Talents out of time

I have a natural talent for computers and computer programming. It's just something that suits the way my brain works. In a way I was very lucky to be born when I did: I got to learn about computers when they were brand new. I was 10 when I had my first exposure to the very primitive computers of the time (printer-terminals on a PDP 11/8e that the school district was using for administrative purposes) and it was the perfect time in my development to discover what would be my career.

When I think about that bit of luck, I wonder, if I'd been born five years earlier, how different things would have been. But people five years older than me sometimes still work as programmers. What about if I'd been born 20 years earlier? Even less likely, but still possible. But why stop there? Think of poor Ada Lovelace, who we know had the talent, and never got to explore more than the tiniest corner of the possibilities; had she been born a century later she might not have become famous for it but she sure would have enjoyed her career. And think of the countless others born at her time, or earlier, who never got to even realize they had a talent for something that hadn't been invented and wouldn't be in their lifetimes.

Which invites the obvious mirror image question. How many people today have no idea that they have a rare natural talent for something whose merest existence we don't yet imagine? Sci-fi often posits such things -- a rare gift that enables a handful of people to understand hyperspace dynamics enough to be required for FTL ships, for instance. Maybe you're one of those few hyperspace-savants, and you'll never know, because hyperspace travel won't be invented for another two hundred years. So instead you fall into whatever line of work you fall into, never learning of the talent which would have let you shine and be appreciated as a genius in your field.

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