The Superpower I’d Most Like To Have

This is written in earnest; my desire is sincere. And not uncommon: I mean, the longing for a superpower and the announcing of same are not rare.

No less than President Obama was asked on the campaign “trail” about his power. He said he’d like to communicate in any language: read, write, speak. This is good, and one I have shared. My version of it, but not the power I most pine for, is that whatever book I touch, I immediately assimilate its contents, in whatever language. I have visions of running through libraries, rubbing the books as I shoot down the aisles.

But this “power” has a significant and regrettable downside. Reading is pleasurable and I’d be forever depriving myself of re-re-reading Rumpole or O’Brian at nights. Airplane rides would become even more horrifying with nothing to do to pass the time but watch on the seat-back miniature cinematographs story-less bouts of computer animation, all narrated by choruses of lifeless dialogue.

I also don’t want to fly (under my own efforts; a aeroplane is just barely tolerable). Because then I’d be tempted, like any citizen who owns a car, to use that method of conveyance in lieu of walking, and there would go another pleasant hobby. Amazing strength I don’t need, because there’s nothing heavy I should want to lift. Being bullet proof is somewhat appealing, but since I no longer live in Detroit, it’s not necessary.

No, the power I wish to have, the capacity that would trump all others, is selective deafness!

Ain’t you amazed?, as Jack Aubrey (a character in those O’Brian books) might ask. To be able to switch on and off hearing at will would be a talent most enviable.

Think of it! There you sit, exiled in yet another endless committee meeting: switch off! Then sit back with a countenance indicating concern, but where you are blissfully left to your own thoughts. If enough people gesture your way, switch on!, and consider if it’s something with which you have to deal.

You’re at your desk, beavering away, and in the street from five blocks and a vehicle begins to back up, all the while emitting an ear splitting beep-beep-beep. Why? Lest a hoard of innocent bystanders get run over, that’s why. Switch off!

The radio is playing an interview with an important personage, but a commercial break is necessary. “We’re conducting a marketing trial in your area”, “Donate your car to us and we’ll give ten cents of the profits to our sponsoring charity”, “Are you fat or in debt? Call us today!” Switch off! These breaks are all roughly the same length, and with some practice you’ll be able to switch back on when the program resumes.

You finally discover, after years of patient searching, a public house which does not insist its drinks must be served with gut-wrenching doses of incredibly loud, yet stupefyingly bad, music, and some clown sits next to you, whips out her cell phone and then shouts into it with all the vigor of a calvary officer leading a charge. This being a lady, you can’t do anything more than stare blunted daggers, so…switch off! and enjoy your Guinness in peace.

A cheery stroll down the street, until you come upon the shopping district. Doors of the establishments are open, and out pours, in terrifying quantities, gut-wrenching doses of incredibly loud, yet stupefyingly bad, music. Switch off! Incidentally, the last government sponsored survey shows that there are no known stores left in America which do not play music; shop owners conclude people cannot buy unless their brains are first pulverized by peppy bass lines.

A picnic on the Sheep Meadow, on a fine July day; the sun warm, the champagne cold. And then Summer Stage, set half the park away, starts up and yet another diverse band begins pumping gut-wrenching doses of incredibly loud, yet stupefyingly bad, music. Switch off!

I challenge to you come up with any power which has as many benefits and little to no negatives. Just don’t tell your wife of your talent, or she’ll forever accuse you of using it even when you’re not.


  1. Scott B

    I had considered the downside of the instant acquisition (or nearly so a la Rosemary’s Baby – he could play vinyl too ). But what would the assimilation entail? Just a record of the text stored for later processing like a fleshy Kindle? Then you could sit back and switch on the selective deafness and read what ever was in your head.

  2. Scott B

    Correction “had NOT considered”

  3. Speed

    A prototype for this power has been available for decades — the TV remote control.

  4. Kevin B

    Personally, based on a vaguely remembered old Larry Niven short story about an alien who walked into a bar and proceeded to get maudlin drunk, I’d go for the language power.

    Wishing to do what maudlin drunks the galaxy over are wont to do – tell all his troubles to the bartender – he slipped said barkeep a language pill so that he could be understood.

    This particular language pill, (RNA based I believe), was quite powerful and since almost everything is a language – maths, music, the genetic code, quantum entanglement – it had some fairly profound effects on our bartender’s, (and our planet’s), future.

  5. MattL

    As a married man with children, I can assure you that I have this power. It is very handy.

  6. Bruce Foutch

    William my friend,

    You already have this ability. Just ask your wife! 😉

  7. Many commenters making jokes here but for some of us, it’s just not possible to “pretend” not to hear what’s going on. The musak, the television, the cell phone people, the traffic noises, the co-workers… Ear plugs aren’t enough. Head phones don’t do it.

    Yes, I’ve often wished for this super power myself.

  8. I had a physics professor at John Carroll University who had this ability that was granted to him by mother nature. He had partially lost his hearing and was forced to use one of those old fashion hear aids that has an ear phone connected to a pocket sound receiver. His office was in the midst of the department office. He just turned a knob on the amp and silence prevailed. To get his attention we hads to tap on his back. He said it gave him the power to concentrate without distractions from extraneous noise.

  9. Dennis Dunton


    If you live as long as I have, you may very well get your wish.

  10. Gary

    Already have partial selective deafness – to commercials and most pointless chatter – so my power would be to make self-important fools disappear. Quietly, quickly. Poof. Regular fools – most of us – would get a pass.

  11. Donald Owen

    Be careful what you wish for . . . I’ve had this condition for 21 years and I have a hard time seeing the benefits – Google Meniere’s Disease for details.

  12. Noblesse Oblige

    “Ain’t you amazed?, as Jack Aubrey (a character in those O’Brian books) might ask. To be able to switch on and off hearing at will would be a talent most enviable.”

    I have this already: severe conductive hearing loss. I hear quite well with hearing aids, and I love the ability to shut them down. The condition is correctable but why would I want to give up my personal superpower?

  13. Phillip Williams

    Yes I too have a degree of hearing loss which allows me to readily zone out. I work in a noisy open plan office (my choice – I am the boss) and only put in my hearing aids when absolutely necessary. Otherwise I operate in a “zone of silence” (a Maxwell Smart term). I regard my hearing loss as a blessing rather than a burden.

  14. Sera

    The power to make people happy for an appropriate amount of time.

  15. It’s not a super-power unless you can use it for the benefit of others.

    You need something like turning the sound of car horns into those of flatulence. Or blowing the fuses on the audio systems polluting the soundscape. Or instantly rendering hoarse those who insist on shouting into their telephones.

  16. Sylvain Allard

    I had a superpower once. I have a very good memory but before my first depression I had an amazing memory. I long for those days where I could remember almost everything to which I had gave any attention to.

    I could name the starting line-up of all MLB team. I could remember conversation I had with someone like 10-15 years before, what day it was, the temp, the clothe we were wearing what we talked about. Of course it was very usefull in school.

    The drawback was that it cause my first depression after I lost control over it and I was unable to shut it off. I could barely sleep.

    I still have a good memory and even after my PTSD event in 1999 I was scored at 91th percentile while before my first depression I was scored at the 98th percentile in IQ test.

  17. JH

    I once walked around the house with my fingers in my ears, and Dad got angry at me. The naïve me wanted to know about the silent world that he lives in. Maybe because there were many times that I had to turn off the noise around me to hear Dad’s hands, noise usually doesn’t bother me at all.

    Dad is the most content person I’ve known.

    A peaceful world is not necessary silent, and vice versa.

  18. rmark

    pop out myh hearing aids, problem solved.

  19. I would love to fly so much.

    Follow up powers, almost anything spider-man related. Especially either swinging through the city on self-created wires or sticking to walls/ceilings.

    Just imagine the latter! No more ladders or worries about falls. I could quadruple the space of my tiny apartment as I utilize the ceiling and walls as well as the floor. Storage space would also be expanded as I would no longer have to worry about not reaching something, and just imagine how easy it would be to find anything when I could get a literal bird’s eye view from above.

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