It is a pleasant surprise to see that this book has been reissued as a hardcover. In the thrity years since its original publication, the basic truths and awesome prognositications have largely come to pass. Of course, in the process Mr. Toffler has become something of a cottage industry himself, since publishing several sequels (The Third Wave, Power Shift, etc.). Yet nothing surpasses the sheer magnitude of the argument forwarded here. Toffler marshalls a virtual mountain of evidence illustrating his claim of a rising flood of techniological, social, and economic change, largely emanating from the increasing influence of science and technology into every area of contemporary life.
Toffler's main concern is with the recognition that while a human being's capacity to adjust physically, psychologically, and socially to this torrent of change is finite and quite limited, the pace of change is increasing and expanding into more and more areas of individuals' lives. Moreover, no one is asking for these profound and endless changes; they stem more from the economic impulses of the marketplace than from any kind of consumer demand, and perhaps we should be asking to what extent this flood of innovations actually enhances our lives, and personal convenience associated with all these innovations and technological improvements are worth the social, economic, and political change that follows in its wake.
The term "future shock" refers to what happens when people are no longer able to cope with the pace of change. All sorts of symptoms and maladies results, ranging from depression to bizarre behavior to increases in susceptability to disease to absolute emotional breakdown. Thus, Toffler accurately anticipated many of the sorts of psychological, social, and economic maldies and turbulence of the last thirty years. Yet, to date literally no one seems to pay much heed to his thesis, or to ask what it means for the quality of life in our own futures. This is an important book raising critical and fundamental questions about the social, economic, and political impacts of technologically-induced innovations within contemporary society and the way they are flooding uncontested and unhampered into our social environment. This is a must-read for any serious student of social science.
Alvin Toffler is one crackerjack sociologist. He wrote a series of books concerning the direction of society, the first being this book, Future Shock. Future Shock was written in 1970, and it must have caused a sensation at the time. Toffler examines so many sociological issues that the mere scope of this book is mind-boggling. Toffler went on to write The Third Wave and Powershift, both of which I have not read. While some of Toffler's theories in this book did not pan out, most the observations he makes are eerily true.
Toffler's main argument is that humanity, as of 1970, is in the midst of an enormous shift from an industrial society to a super-industrial society. This new society will be characterized by such things as an acceleration of images, words, ideas, and technologies that could possibly overwhelm mankind (Sound familiar? Watch the news tonight and see how many graphics float by on the screen). Mankind will suffer a serious disconnect when these new ideas reach their fruition (if not well before then). This disconnect is "future shock," an inability to process the enormous amounts of information and change associated with the super-industrial revolution. Toffler likens future shock to the same sort of disorientation that a person experiences when he moves to a new area, or a new country, and suffers a severing of all he has known. While some people can adjust with seeming ease to this kind of dislocation, most of us suffer various maladies from this "shock." Toffler ends up attributing most of societies ills to this jarring social shock. Crime, drug use, the disintegration of society, the burgeoning of quasi-religious movements: all of these are symptoms of a society that can no longer cope with the vast amounts of information and change that technology is bringing about.
These changes involve education, work, government and other dimensions of life. Toffler believes that we should not be afraid to scrap massive sections of any of these areas if doing so can improve our chances of adjusting and functioning within the new society. Toffler proposes forming numerous groups that would deal exclusively with trying to take charge of the situation so that a safer, slower future will come about. Toffler even supports oversight of technology so that any new products or ideas can be examined to determine their effects on society at large (a big no-no to big business).
Some of Toffler's visions are pretty impressive. Toffler predicts that work will increasingly be made up of short-range ad hoc committees that would tackle specific problems within a company. This is certainly true today, although the hierarchy is still alive and well in the business community. Toffler also saw the explosion in the entertainment industry, even though some of his ideas are pretty weird and have yet to be realized. Such ideas as genetic engineering and cloning are still in the formative stages, but Toffler mentions them here as well. One of the more interesting observations in this book concerns the structure of the family. Toffler sees divorce as a problem, and he proposes the idea of short-term contractual marriages as a possible solution. I whole-heartedly support this idea if it doesn't involve alimony payments! He also believes that children could be farmed out to families whose sole purpose in society would be to take care of kids. Kind of like daycare, except the little rugrats won't come home at the end of the day.
There really isn't any reason to read this book today unless you're a sociologist, interested in seeing the same old day-to-day stuff in a new way, or just interested in seeing how freaky some of Toffler's ideas are. Mr. Toffler does come off as a huge socialist, and that's a bit scary. Still, this is an intelligent book written in an easy style. You could do a lot worse than reading this one.
on May 14, 2005
This book was first published in 1970 and was a call to take heed of the looming "Future Shock" or backlash of humanities biggest, unresolved dilemmas such as: the widening disparity between rich and poor, ie, the wealth of the world being monopolized by smaller and smaller percentage of the world human population, while the growing number of poor or outright poverty stricken are growing by leaps and bounds; burgeoning human population pressures with it's ever-increasing demands on limited resources; pollution of the food chains; technology with it's blessings and baggage of intrusive, dehumanizing side-effects; world health crisis, etc.
While humanity is currently preferring to live in a state of denial about the impending backlash of the mostly human-caused problems facing our present and immediate future, there is a growing accumulation of data never historically available to us before on how to deal with our problems. Will we put this knowledge to use in time?
So what exactly is "Future Shock"? Toffler explains: "We may define future shock as the distress, both physical and psychological, that arises from an overload of the human organism's physical adaptive systems and it's decision-making processes. Put more simply, future shock is the human response to over-stimulation". Overload= breakdown! The socio-political, economic and environmental bills are coming due and they WILL be paid, shocking or not!
Toffler sees that our time consuming, stressed-out, hyper-industrial, compulsive consuming society is leaving parents no time for proper child rearing- as if they were qualified for the task in the first place. Un-guided, un-taught, un-disciplined children set themselves and society up for another of the many aspects of future shock with their aberrant behavior expanding as they get older.
"We don't let just anyone perform brain surgery or for that matter, sell stocks and bonds. Even the lowest ranking civil servant is required to pass tests proving competence. Yet we allow virtually anyone, almost without regard for mental or moral qualifications to try his or her hand at raising young human beings, so long as these humans are biological off-spring. Despite the increasing complexity of the task, parenthood remains the *greatest single preserve of the amateur*."
Toffler suggests that society should "professionalize" child rearing and parents should be educated by mandate of society. That along with every other level of society for a literate, more successful society. Guidelines for instituting "appropriate technology" vs. irresponsible, runaway technology are covered. "Utopian" models for society should always be considered as guidelines for future adjustments and upgrades to consider- and think-tanks for that very purpose should be established. This along with "sanctuaries for social imagination"- sounds like ancient Greece, eh?
Ten years after this book was published, Marilyn Ferguson came out with her block-buster book, "The Aquarian Conspiracy". She somewhat took-up where Toffler left off and created a blueprint of where we are and where we should be heading to stave-off the trauma of future shock. She expertly delineates the "Paradigm Shift" or changes needed in our collective thinking and proffers an abundance of guidelines and resources for that objective.
The following year (1981), Duane Elgin comes out with his "Voluntary Simplicity", more guidelines for transitioning to a more harmonious existence. Elgin follows this with another similar book to "Future Shock" and "The Aquarian Conspiracy" with "Awakening Earth" (1993), then followed by "Promise Ahead"- a continuation of the paradigm shift of collective consciousness needed for survival into the future.
To all of these fine books, one should add Theodore Roszak's "The Voice of the Earth" and we then have a small, but potent collection of some of the most instructive and helpful books ever published for the immediate betterment of our existence on Earth. Excellent "How-to" manuals on global change in human perception of reality.
on August 5, 1997
If you are old enough, think back to the year 1970. There were no pocket calculators, home VCRs, personal computers or electronic digital watches. Households in which both parents --particularly mothers-- worked were uncommon. Home satellite television systems did not exist.This was the environment in which Alvin Toffler wrote "Future Shock".The book is an excellent study in how humans deal with rapid technological and social change in the late twentieth century. Many of the devices and conditions we deal with on a daily basis in the 1990's were foretold by Toffler in this brilliant work. Toffler concluded that millions of people will find it increasingly difficult to cope with the rate of change in the future. Well, the future which Toffler described is now. "Future Shock" is well worth another look for those of us who wish to see how far we have progressed. And how far we need to go
on September 4, 1998
Alvin Toffler's Future Shock is by now almost a quarter of a century old.
Yet the concepts and issues it tackles is amazingly relevant even today. Coming from my native India, I literally finished Future Shock only a day before I left.
I have found that the issues of technological transformation that Toffler studies in the Future Shock are relevant not just to the United States but in many ways to the world. Because willy-nilly or for ad-hoc fashionable Americanism most societies in technological transformation do take their cues from America. The symptoms of a society in technological transformation are increasingly being felt and seen ... not just the U.S. even in India and other countries.
Alvin Toffler may not be entirely objective in his evaluation of the phenomenon of future shock but he surely is a pioneer in the sense that he has identified the pulse of the 20th century techno society.
Walking down Manhattan from Port Authority, if you are a first time visitor to New York City, you will see happening in front of your eyes the crazed, frenzied and technology driven phenomenon that is future shock. If you live in this system for a signigicant number of days you would also realise that you can adapt to it faster than you think.
You would also realise that Future Shock doubles up as a manual to understanding and interpreting in a general manner the phenomenon of urban, techno-driven American megacities. Something, that all newcomers to America would do well to know and apply ... not in full and absolute ways but as a general framework to build their own thesis on future shock.
Future Shock, will most probably be treated as a seminal work in social psychology for a number of decades. But it does not make every proposition of Toffler's, an inviolate principle. It is at best, even after two and a half decades, an advanced and "work in progress" hypothesis ; as future shock still continues to unfold itself in our daily life. Whether it becomes a viable and consistent theory, remains to be seen. But most would agree, that it shall never quite become law, because America is a technology driven civilisation ...the youngest civilisation. Tomorrow the driving civilisation (or civilisations) of the world, might not be thoroughly technologically driven. It may have as its driving engine not just technology but something entirely different to anything presently known to humanity.
Read this book but realise, it is not a manual, it is a rough guide. It is still hypothesis, not a cause and effect system. And above all, judge things for yourself, not through Toffler's eyes. You will realise that things that seemed weird around you begin to make a lot of sense.
on July 23, 2015
I wanted to read it again, because I read it when it first came out and wanted to know if anything came out as the author envisioned. Some things were uncannily accurate and some just strange. Some things he didn't emphasize much, like the environment and women's rights. Some sexist attitudes were apparent, probably without the author even realizing it. Some areas we have not progressed as far as he thought we would, such as transportation. If you remember the times, or if you read it when it came out in 1970, you may like to read it. Or even if you're just curious.
The world has changed in many of the ways predicted by Toffler.
We are now in the throes of the super-industrial society
he spoke of in the early 1970s. For instance, computing power
has grown exponentially. There is a computer on every work
desk in most corporate offices. Children work with computers
at school. A growing number of people work at home. Electronics
has permeated virtually every part of society from home
calculators/computers to electronic panels in automobiles to super-stereo systems and advanced training systems in industry
and academe. Even childrens' games reflect the growing
sophistication of the super-industrialized world economy.
The internet has become the central repository of data.
Very few of these changes were imaginable from the perspective
of the early 1970s. The super industrial society will progress
technologically. Our challenge will require translating
the industrial progress into the creation of incremental
wealth for every segment of the society. Job re-design and
organizational dynamics have displaced workers and forced
re-training on the continued basis predicted by Toffler.
In fact, a central thesis of his book involved the fast rate
of change and its displacement of technical matter taught in primary school, high school and college. The super-industrialized
society will progress very much the way Toffler envisioned.
Our challenge will be to manage the change and utilize it to
improve the quality of our lives in every aspect previously
on September 2, 1998
The idea of "future shock" is one of those rare concepts that has become *more* pertinent with the passage of time. The notion that an entire populace in a post-industrial society could find their capacity to adapt to their own (especially technological) developments outstripped by the very pace at which these devlopments occur is an idea that is even more supremely relevant today than when Toffler first identifed the phenomenon back in 1970.
What a pity then, that he did not do his own thesis more justice. The book is divided into seven parts. Part I is a gripping read, sensibly argued, and a superb outline of the book's central point. In the next five parts, however, Toffler seems to get carried away, and the book gradually descends into unwarranted generalisations, wild speculations, unrestrained alarmism and recommendations that sometimes border on the surreal. By the final chapter, the reader will long have lost faith.
I am not making the captious objection that a man writing almost thirty years ago about the rapid rate of change in the industrial world failed to predict correctly (a virtually impossible task for a book so long): I am simply saying that Toffler failed to predict *sensibly*. In short, he identified a palpable phenomenon, perhaps even *the* zeitgeist of the latter half of this century, but the claims that he made for its importance were so exaggerated and poorly thought out that the idea itself was not done any justice: one can almost hear the concept tearing at the seams as Toffler mangles it to fit his predictions.
Read the book: the idea is certainly terrific, and you'll probably agree with the central concept. As regards Toffler's implications, you'll likely find yourself making up your own mind.
on May 28, 2015
Futurists are notoriously bad at predicting the future (here's looking at you, Ray Kuzweil!). Toffler, though, has about as good a track record as anyone I've ever heard of. For example, he predicts the increased acceptance of homosexuality 3 years before it was removed from the DSM.
But Toffler is still more often right when he is most conservative in his predictions, and many of the things he writes about (increased disposeability of goods, exponential growth of Urban population, lack of career stability, lack of ties to place etc.) are just extrapolations of trends that began during the Second Industrial Revolution. The really gripping thing about "Future Shock" is its psychological insight. No one can seriously cast any doubts on the fact that the human race has experienced profound changes in its manner of living since the Second World War, and most of these changes stem from technological progress. With the rise of Super-Industrialism, as Toffler calls our current era, old institutions are shaken and some even crumble and fall.
The pace of this change has taken on a life of its own, and is largely driven by economic necessity. The average modern man will change career and location several times, will be inundated with constant shifts in popular entertainment, will be less likely to die in the city in which he was born, will be less likely to have the same friends or even the same wife for a lifetime, and will even be less likely to have any great loyalty to any particular nation. The overall effect is an increased sense of transience, superficiality, and the disposeablity of things. Faced with increased alienation from nation, profession, Church, and even family, Modern man finds himself unable to cope. The change is simply too rapid for even the most adaptable to keep up. Toffler calls this failure "Future Shock," and argues that many of current social problems are the result of it.
Toffler isn't all doom and gloom, though. He also argues that the future will be a time of great creativity and innovation. But the future will bring change, whether humanity likes it or not.
Whether or not you buy Toffler's argument, it nevertheless remains intriguing. Personally, I think he hits the nail on the head. It doesn't seem as though the tidal wave of change will be slowing any time soon either. Depression, for example, has increased dramatically in recent years, so much so that there is no longer any possibility that under-diagnosis can explain why fewer were treated for it fifty or a hundred years ago; mass depression is a modern phenomenon. Why such a noticeable increase in what was formerly a fairly rare mental disorder? Future shock may be at least part of the answer.
If anything else Toffler gives the diagnosis of a disease that we're going to have to deal with, one way or another, because it isn't going away.
Toffler saw something important. He in 1970 saw that the accelerated pace of technological development would have a profound effect on the daily life of individuals. He understood that the disjunction between the technological changes and the human adaptation to them would be the source of major problems.
He understand that a new era of customization was bringing a variety to human choice, a kind of freedom which might in another sense take away freedom. He saw too the importance of ' information' and how it would be at the heart of transforming the world economy.
Toffler went on to write a number of other works about ' social change in the future' but this is by far the most interesting and profound one.
'Future Shock' is now a part of mankind's vocabulary and a continual element in our everyday life - experience.
Who knows what will come next and how wonderful or terrible it will be for us all?