Advantages and disadvantages change with the times

If you take a skill like reading and you look at it over time, you’ll see that the value and the leverage it creates change over time.

In 1820 only about 12% of the world was literate.

Today, it’s estimated that 86% of the world is literate. 95%+ is common in more developed countries.

Two hundred years and the percentage of people who are literate vs. illiterate has flipped. Two hundred years ago it was rare to be able to read and write, but now it’s rare to not to be able to.

Think about how this changes a dynamic. Learning to read and write in 1820 was an advantage. You could read books. You could correspond with friends, business associates, politicians, etc. This created extra opportunity and ability to connect with people not in your vicinity.

Today, most people can read. It alone is no longer an advantage. In fact, it’s a basic requirement that many of society’s jobs require. Not being able to read and write is a disadvantage.

The most profound part is that in 1900 we were still only at ~20% literacy in 1900, in 1960 we were at ~40%, and today we’re at 86%. That’s remarkably fast progress on a global scale.

This along with the connection of information in everyone’s pocket is going to mean the last 100 years of societal progress will look like nothing in comparison to the next 100 years. As a result, I’m wondering, and you should too, what are the skills today that seem like an advantage, but in the future will be a disadvantage if you don’t know them?

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