Over the last quarter century I have come to enjoy a number of things that were generally unpopular but made it by with a cult following. However, as with anything made with quality, what has a cult-like following at first will quickly go mainstream. It's at this point that I grow tired of the popular item and move on to the next thing. This isn't always true, of course, but it can be seen time and again throughout my brief existence. It's also very stupid.
I loved Star Trek growing up but, once it went mainstream (again) in the late 90s I started to pay less attention to the show. The same is said for X-Files, South Park, and anime. I loved these things when I was young and few people were talking about them. But, once everybody started to talk about it and show excitement in something that I also enjoyed, I felt as though my private joys had been invaded.
Computers have been different, though, as the things that I do with todays technology are not done by a large number of people. Development is not something that any person will sit down to do1, and it's uncommon for people to delve into the deep recesses of technology to learn how and why transistors work the way they do.
The same thing is also said about science. I love astrophysics and commit a large amount of time to learning more about the universe we live in. Envisioning how light and matter interact just beyond the event horizon of a black hole is like a mental game where I try to pit my understanding of the cosmos against the other great thinkers in the field. Can I see things the way they see them? Can I use their models to understand how mass affects the local space-time continuum?
So if the average person starts developing software will I become bored with the activity2? If everybody gets interested in astrophysics will I stop playing with mental models of black holes, quasars, and atomic structures?
I sure as heck hope not. Because to abandon something because it's in fashion is beyond childish.
Yet this is how I feel as the news sites and blogs of several dozen technology people I follow talk about NASA's recent success on Mars. The Curiosity rover recently landed in what can only be called a flawless mission of seemingly impossible odds. A box on wheels the size of a Mini Cooper was sent from our world to another planet hundreds of millions of kilometers away where it landed exactly where it needed to be after sliding down a tether. This is akin to playing a round of golf and getting a hole in one on a 80,000 yard course with wind, rain, and frigid temperatures in between.
I've been following Curiosity before it even had an official name. I was reading about its construction, the types of alloys used, the reasons behind the various components, and all the minutia that one would expect from a person who pays way too much attention to the small details. To hear people who have not proven to have any understanding of things off world is like listening to some random 5 year old child try and explain our jobs. It's cute for all of sixty-seconds, then you want the kid to shut up because they don't know what they're talking about.
But this is unfair. Anybody should be able to express their amazement about Curiosity's Mars landing. Everybody should be permitted to say what they will. It doesn't diminish how great the feat is. It doesn't diminish the amount of time I've spent analyzing the details of its construction and programming3 4. Why has this childish need to continually set myself apart from the mainstream not yet disappeared like so many other childish desires?
Either way ... most people will forget about Curiosity by next week and I can get back to studying its findings. Until then, I'll just need to suck up this silliness and let people say what they will about NASA and their $2.5-billion rover.