One of the char­ac­ters in Stand on Zanz­ibar is a syn­the­sist. Every­one else refers to him as a dil­letante, and even the gov­ern­ment agency he works for is col­lo­qui­al­ly called the Dil­letante Dept. Don Hogan’s job is to browse through this giant ency­clo­pe­dic com­put­er archive [sort of pre­fig­ur­ing the inter­net] and learn about what­ev­er he wants, and report on the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary asso­ci­a­tions he makes. In a sense he is a spy.

What I like about that, is that it is a job I think I could do quite well. I’ve always had a resis­tance to extreme spe­cial­iza­tion because I don’t want to be nar­rowed down into a niche; since I also want to spend my life con­stant­ly learn­ing new things and expand­ing my knowl­edge instead of con­tract­ing it, the job of a syn­the­sist is appeal­ing.

I won­der if there are any sim­i­lar jobs today that would be equiv­a­lent to the syn­the­sist posi­tion. Prob­a­bly the clos­est would be some sort of con­sul­tant, but that is more focused. The syn­the­sist just does some word asso­ci­a­tion foot­ball with con­cepts and links unfore­seen rela­tions between dif­fer­ent fields and also rec­og­nizes the emp­ty space where inter­dis­ci­pli­nary gaps in knowl­edge can be filled through col­lab­o­ra­tion. It is an inter­est­ing idea and one that I think meets with my ten­den­cy to look for what I call “seams” in an idea.