A Post Numerate World

Los Angeles: cashiered

You’re at the check-out of the convenience store and hand over a couple of notes. As the cashier rings up your purchase you find a couple of coins that round off the sum and will save you carrying a pocket full of schrapnel.

In the US of A odds are that the cashier will be confused by the additional coins – returning them along with a pocket full of change.

In China the cashier will more than likely calculate the difference between the original sum and the addition of the coins and adjust the change on the fly.

This is not a fair comparison of simple arithmetic skills – the profile of someone working in a convenience store is likely to be significantly different in China or the US. But it is a subtle interplay between the knowledge and effort required to complete the interaction + service culture + devolving responsibility of completing the arithmetic task to technology (the cash register). But at what point are the skills of your parents no longer needed in today’s world? Is there a point when literacy, numeracy as we know it today is no longer relevant.