Other Worlds and Wasted Talents
I was reminded of this recently when someone I know in WoW as an unusually competent and charismatic leader, organizer, and player, mentioned the problem of "parental agro." He is apparently a college student, possibly a graduate student, living with his parents. Older examples are friends in the SCA of whose abilities and energy I think highly, who made their living as school teachers or secretaries or the like—respectable jobs, but not particularly high status or high paying ones.
The pattern is not entirely surprising. It makes sense that an energetic individual who doesn't find much outlet for his energies in his current career will direct them towards his hobbies. Adam Smith long ago observed that, in the British universities of the time, a professor got no benefit by doing a good job of teaching, since the professors were on salary rather than, as in at least some of the Scottish universities, paid by the students. He concluded that if the professor were naturally energetic, he would spend his energies doing something that might be of some benefit to him rather than doing his job, which would not. Nowadays we call it "consulting."
At the same time, it seems a terrible waste. Starting a business, running a restaurant, doing scientific research, any of a myriad of "real world" activities, have the same potential for employing human talents as organizing a guild in WoW or an event in the SCA. They also produce other benefits, most obviously the opportunity to combine fun and profit in a way rarely possible with one's hobbies. I am glad that these people spend the time and talents they do in worlds we share, since I benefit from their doing so. But I wonder what keeps them from employing the same talents more successfully in the part of the world where they spend forty hours a week making a living.
Is it that they prefer for that part of their life to make fewer demands on them? Or is it rather a case of wasted talents, a failure of current institutions to do as good a job as they might of letting potentially productive individuals find suitable employment for their abilities?