It has been 50 years this month since Alvin and Heidi Toffler published their book, Future Shock. The Tofflers have since passed on to the next plane. However, they have left behind a work, that is amazingly prescient, especially when seen in the context of the current pandemic and its impact on society. “The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order,” he wrote in the book. I wonder what he would have thought about the present—the rapidity with which we have been thrust into the future is quite surprising and unsettling.
Millions of ordinary psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future.
Future shock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future… [It] is a time phenomenon, a product of the greatly accelerated change in society.
The Tofflers came up with terms such as information overload and prosumer. And they also pointed to the decline of the cities — which wasn’t really the case till six months ago. Today, we are starting to rethink the importance and role of the cities.
Here are some bits from the book that might be of interest. Take Toffler’s observations about work — they seem apparent today, but 50 years ago, a select few believed it would become a dominant way to work.
“Advanced technology and information systems make it possible for much of the work of society to be done at home via computer-telecommunications hook-ups.”
“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Rampant consumerism, loss of the social fabric, and everything that gives us context are reflected in his comments. It also explains why we are facing increased isolationism and the rise of extremism in society.
People of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: over choice.
We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots religion, nation, community, family, or profession are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.
His comments about the next generation being ignored when planning for the future is even more evident today. The next generation sees its future as mortgaged by the elders who cannot even understand the future. It is why they want to come out on the streets and protest.
The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they – at some distant point in the future – will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely… because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.
Tofflers left us a simple to do item, and yet we ignore it. Whether it is business, politics or technology — everyone continues to ignore a simple fact: it is always about the future and the people.
“Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it…to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.”
It might be a good time to re-read this book.
August 17, 2020, San Francisco