A Marist poll found that more people either wanted to read minds or time travel (28% for each), over flying (16%), teleporting (11%) and invisibility (10%). Gen X and the old folks preferred mind reading while baby boomers preferred time travel. Roughly similar numbers of younger folks liked either. Gender matters more clearly as 35% of men wished they could time travel while thirty percent of women would seek to read minds.
So, what could make of this? Well, first, this poll seems to exclude some notable superpowers: super strength (Hulk, Superman), super speed (Flash, the mom on No Ordinary Family), telekinesis (Jean Grey), healing powers (Wolverine), and so on.
Still, it is interesting that baby boomers are more into time travel than anything else? Why? To go to the future and learn how things will turn out or go back in the past to fix all the things they screwed up? Probably the latter. I doubt they seek time travel to double or triple what they can do a la Hermione Granger. Men might want to time travel to fix their mistakes, while women are more interesting in understanding the people around them?
Hmmm, so I am stalling as I am pondering which power I would want, if I could only have one. The problem with time travel is that it seems driven very much by regrets--fixing the past--and that nearly all of the pop culture on time travel indicates that fixing the past leads to nastier outcomes. And getting knowledge from the future is seen as endangering the present (Back to the Future). So, time travel, while attractive for righting mistakes of the past (getting the 2nd dog and the cat, buying a house in Canada with only a one car garage, etc) is attractive, I cannot help but think that this power is the most dangerous--to myself and others. I blame pop culture for that.
Telepathy is mighty tempting, particularly if it means one can influence (Inception-esque) as well as read minds. This would require great discipline since the noise would be tremendous and one might learn all kinds of things that one would not want to know. If there is ever such a thing as too much information, then telepathy would be a bad idea. Sure, it would be useful for my career--detecting students cheating, gleaning more info from interviews than the subjects would want to give up, and so on--but, again, this power can cause as much trouble as it solves.
Flying is fun, but inferior to alternatives that would be more useful--teleportation and super speed. Invisibility would mostly be useful for stalking, so no thanks. Super-strength would be handy at times but would not fulfill a need most of the time. How often am I lifting really heavy stuff or fighting someone? Not much. Telekinesis would be pretty cool, as I could get stuff without moving, exacerbating my lazy instincts.
So, after all that, three stand out: super-healing, teleportation and super-speed. The first would be great since I now get hurt more easily playing ultimate or taking apart my daughter's bed, so I could use a power that would bring my wrist and my ankles to health. And this power would be more and more attractive as I get older (might even help with other aspects of aging).
Teleportation's attractiveness would depend on how far I could go. If I could go anywhere in the world, then it would be number 1. I do like to travel, so being able to move around the country/world would be very, very useful, and it would also allow me to avoid commutes and spending so much time in cars getting to and from work, ultimate, skiing and whatever else.
Super-speed would have many of the same advantages of teleportation (although not clear about world travel--fast enough to run on water?) plus I could do stuff at super-speed. While this would worsen my tendency to be impatient, I could get a lot done every day at super-speed.
The open question is how much of this I could share with others: could I teleport with people? could I have other people move quickly with me?
I guess I would rank these thusly: super-speed > teleportation > super healing > the rest.
What would you choose?