Theses about the Future and History of Cultural Competences

Slideshow_startI learned at school that we have some “basic cultural competences”. Allegedly, they are the necessary basis for human progress. For instance calculating, reading and writing.
How about these competences today?


Who of us can still do the multiplication tables by heart? Who of us can still do calculations without using paper for summations, subtractions, multiplications and divisions? Especially if there are several digits and you have to “store” some interim results?

Who of us is still versed about the formal methods for subtractions and multiplications on paper, or summations of long number colonies? I mean without having to spend a long time thinking how you used to learn it. Or who can still extract a root? Using nothing but pen and paper? These are the kinds of tasks you can use in a job interview if you quickly want to drive even academically educated candidates to extreme desperation.

As I see it, doing calculations is a cultural competence that is currently disappearing. Well, neither do we need it any longer, because our small electronic helpers can do a so much better job of it.

Consequently, many persons only have a rudimentary knowledge of calculations. Children do not learn it any more. Perhaps if they had “unschooling” conditions (or a Sudbury school), they might be interested in such exotic things as doing calculations by heart. Intrinsically motivated and as a game.

On the “normal” schools of this world, however, it will no longer work. Because they develop more and more into quasi military educational institutions with absolutely hierarchical structures. Where children are instructed (or rather: drilled) following a certain pattern. (Naturally), this is no way to force something on children that is hard to learn and apparently no longer needed.

Consequently, the cultural competence of calculating will only remain in a very rudimentary form. And I do not find this sad at all. After all, my teacher, F. L. Bauer (second generation computer science pioneer) taught me that, even a few centuries ago, the art of multiplication was taught at universities only up to a low one-digit number. Incidentally, at the time they used logarithmic tables – which resulted in imprecise results.

In other words: if I want to be happy, I do not need cultural competence I have to take pains to acquire. And I mean cultural competence that gains me nothing excerpt a headache at the end of the day!

Reading & Writing

This cultural competence is not yet as extinct as calculations. However, not only the “developed” countries have a drastically increasing number of both true and “rudimentary illiterates”. As a logical consequence, they now demand as part of barrier free access for public announcements for web design that the website has to be readable for “persons who only have rudimentary knowledge of reading, as well” in the USA.

This is another development that looks logical and clear to me. Audio and video are on the ascent, of course, the podcast beats the post, youtube & co beat the newspaper, etc.

Incidentally, these explanations of mine are not meant ironically. I am dead serious. Matters will continue in this direction. Here are some more steep theses of mine:

  • The high times of reading and writing arrived with the PC and the laptop.
    Writing with pen and paper has always been and is just atrocious. Written documents were optimized for the person who writes them, rather than with him. In former times, both the light for reading and the eyesight of the readers were poorer. Consequently, writing a document – and penmanship – were very time consuming and have thus become redundant. Only printing presses and later Johannes Gutenberg with his invention of movable metal letters brought the breakthrough for written media. Later, the typewriter made it a bit easier to produce readable written material, and so did the computer – regardless of sub-standard software like word. Thus, we had a last peak of writing that started with “vi” and is now at its end. Just look at the texts created on mobile telephones and tablets (aren’t they identical today?).
  • It is easier to learn how to draw and sketch than to learn how to read and write.
    Most technologies disappear after they have reached their peak. The written word will suffer the same fate. It will probably be replaced by drawing and sketching. Many people say they cannot draw. That is wrong. It is quite easy to learn how to produce pictures and express yourself in picture language.
  • Our technology is currently maturing towards drawing and sketching.
    So far, the only way to draw halfway decent pictures was on paper. There were disadvantages to this. The electronic assistants were not yet capable of supporting us in the same way as “word processor” supported an author. But now the tablets come – and suddenly drawing electronical pictures is easier than drawing on paper. Just like it happened in former times with writing. Undo, versioning, layout layers and many great features make you forget the erstwhile huge handicaps of drawing on paper. And it seems that they have only just started!
  • Our future belongs to images and sounds.
    Images say more than a thousand words. This was an experience made by early marketing, when they had posters on mobile vehicles such as trams. Adverts with text had failed on trams, because the trams had always turned the corner before the people could decipher the texts. It was a lot easier with pictures and very few words.
  • Perhaps there can be a consensus through pictures.
    As I see it, this is a very important side effect. Successful communication is probably the hardest of all challenges. We have tried for millennia to find consensus through linguistic and written communication. And we have failed just as long, as history proves. Why don’t we try pictures instead?

Here is my statement:

The future belongs to pictures and sounds. It will become socially as unimportant to write as it is now to do calculations. Rudimentary reading will be totally sufficient for understanding additional information such as for instance precise details. The main reason for this development is that the digital world, at long last, can create and make available pictures as easily and quickly as a simple calculator makes calculations or as the current collaboration tools make the use of documents available. This is how, in the long run, drawing, drafting and sketching on tablets (and their successors) will replace the “cultural competences” of reading and writing in the same way as the calculator has replaced the “cultural competence” of doing sums.

“Because it is so easy!”, or “Because that is how it is!”.

🙂 Even if then the IF Blog will have to become a podcast or/and an image blog.


Even today, films, for example, create more consensus than the great novels did in former times. And the more the art of reading gets lost, the more important audio and video will become.
(Translated by EG)

I took the picture from the website of Visual-Braindump (Christian Botta & Daniel Reinold).

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