We are used to thinking that the modern economy is one better suited to the cognitive skills of women than those of men (as argued recently by Arnold Kling and others). We know that women are doing better in our schools and universities and that the recent economic downturn has been worse for men than for women. But what if all this is merely a phase? What if the next shift in the economy is better suited to men? Seems unlikely I know, but let me tease out why it might happen anyway.
We are undergoing an extraordinary expansion of authorship right now. As note recently in SEED magazine:
Since 1400, book authorship has grown nearly tenfold in each century. Currently, authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year. ... Today, at 0.1 percent authorship, many people are trading privacy for influence. What will it mean when we hit nearly 1 percent next year and nearly 10 percent the year after as the current growth predicts?The chart above illustrates the pace of change. The authors suggest that we may fret less about illiteracy in the future and more about dysgraphia if such trends continue. Now arguably this should bode better for women than for men. Higher points in the Leaving and all that. But I don't think so and here's why: we are moving to a post-literate society which will demand a very different set of cognitive skills as argued by Patrick Tucker:
How can the written word — literary culture — survive the advent of the talking, all-knowing, handheld PC? How does one preserve a culture built on a 6,000-year-old technology in the face of super-computation? According to many of the researchers who are designing the twenty-first century’s AI systems, the answer is, you don’t. You submit to the inexorable march of progress and celebrate the demise of the written word as an important step forward in human evolution.The cognitive skills that will be more valuable in future won't be reading and writing (at which women are, on average, better than men), but instead will be visual-spatial skills at which men are, on average, better than women (to one standard deviation). That's one scenario anyway ...
... In the coming decades, lovers of the written word may find themselves ill-equipped to defend the seemingly self-evident merits of text to a technology-oriented generation who prefer instantaneous data to hard-won knowledge. Arguing the artistic merits of Jamesian prose to a generation who, in coming years, will rely on conversational search to find answers to any question will likely prove a frustrating, possibly humiliating endeavor.
If written language is merely a technology for transferring information, then it can and should be replaced by a newer technology that performs the same function more fully and effectively.
Still, perhaps it is just as well we're moving beyond reading and writing. As The Onion reported recently, America and the English-speaking world are facing a crippling idiom shortage ;-)
And let me leave you with a stunning example of how the image is worth a thousand words (or should that be 1,000th of a word?) ht andreascon.