The New Literacy Rate

If I were to send you back in time to 1500, a time when people were just learning how to cope with the recent disruptive invention of the moveable type printing press, you could have lived a very respectable and comfortable live (by the standards of the time) without being literate. 


In fact, literacy rates were about 10% for men (and 1% for women). But, in the 150 years following the invention of the printing press, society reorganized around this new information technology, and unsurprisingly literacy rates increased by 2-3x. It should be noted that the common ability to read generally preceded the common ability to write.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and literacy (aided by population density) continued to increase significantly. Today, in developed societies, literacy rates are near 100%.

There's a parallel in this story for how we should think about the disruptive information technology pervading our current era. Literacy is to the printed word as programming is to the internet.

The speed of innovation has increased, it will happen faster than it did in 1500, but I'll predict that we'll see a cultural movement towards learning to understand and write programming languages. Things in our past, like Alice, and things in our present like CodeYear is giving us a glimpse of a time to come.

If you aren't literate in this fashion, now is a fantastic time to start. It will afford you with the same competitive advantage that literate folks had in 1500.

PS - There's some magic in Aaron Patzer's suggestion that students be allowed to take programming courses that count towards their foreign language requirement. This would be a fantastic way to encourage young folks to develop competitive skills and would create a lot more cohesive thinkers.

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