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TOEFL Essay #134: Is reading and writing more important now than it was in the past?


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It is a very dangerous thing to say that basic literacy skills are more important now than they have ever been in the past. While a strong argument can be made in favor of this idea, making such an argument would imply that reading and writing were somehow less important in the past. While there is a grain of truth to the argument that literacy was not fundamental to the daily existence of most people in the pre-Industrial Revolution period, rationalizing such a lack of need for education in such a way is the first step to withholding education from certain groups, a great social crime that has led to the disempowerment of disadvantage groups all over the world throughout history. However, if we can keep in mind that education is a basic human right, then we can discuss the strengths of the proposition that literacy is more important now than it has ever been before.

It is true that in the past the majority of people all over the world made their livelihood from agricultural activities and that the vast majority of these activities required little or no literacy skills. In some senses, we could argue that literacy skills were less important in the agricultural age than they are now, but to do so would be to forget that literacy also reflects an active mind and that people have always needed to engage in activities of the mind. For example, even though a farmer might have labored all day in her corn field, she may enjoy reading the latest Jane Austen novel when arrived at home. We can see in this example that while literacy was not directly related to this laborer's livelihood, literacy was important to her quality of life.

However, we could make a good argument that literacy is more important now that it was in the past. As we all know, the world is experiencing a revolution that may turn out to be more important than the Industrial Revolution. We are now entering the Information Age, an age in which information and knowledge have more value than the ability to build machines, create "stuff," grow crops, or even mine precious metals and produce gemstones. Nowadays, accurate information may be worth more than the most expensive Rolls-Royce or the biggest diamond. The perfect example of this increasing dominance is the explosive rise in the popularity of the Internet--the Internet offers the world countless bytes of information twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Companies all over the world, but principally in the United States, are rushing to stake their claim in cyberspace and stiff competition among companies has resulted. In order to gain dominance, these companies must have the best-skilled workers, an advanced understanding of computer systems, and good intuition about what will happen in the future. All of these abilities to compete in the global marketplace stem directly from literacy skills and those without these skills will be stuck in the service, agricultural, and heavy industry fields.

In short, we can see that people in the past who were lacking in literacy skills essentially had more company than those lacking these skills have today and could still earn their livelihood. Further, we could argue that because of the nature of the global marketplace and because of the emergence of the Information Age, we could make the argument that literacy is fundamental to professional success nowadays. However, literacy should be considered a basic human right in a literate society--all people throughout history should have learned to read and write.





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