Future Shock

Future Shock

by Alvin Toffler
Future Shock

Future Shock

by Alvin Toffler

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The classic work that predicted the anxieties of a world upended by rapidly emerging technologies—and now provides a road map to solving many of our most pressing crises. 

“Explosive . . . brilliantly formulated.” —The Wall Street Journal 

Future Shock is the classic that changed our view of tomorrow. Its startling insights into accelerating change led a president to ask his advisers for a special report, inspired composers to write symphonies and rock music, gave a powerful new concept to social science, and added a phrase to our language. Published in over fifty countries, Future Shock is the most important study of change and adaptation in our time. 

In many ways, Future Shock is about the present. It is about what is happening today to people and groups who are overwhelmed by change. Change affects our products, communities, organizations—even our patterns of friendship and love. 

But Future Shock also illuminates the world of tomorrow by exploding countless clichés about today. It vividly describes the emerging global civilization: the rise of new businesses, subcultures, lifestyles, and human relationships—all of them temporary. 

Future Shock will intrigue, provoke, frighten, encourage, and, above all, change everyone who reads it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553277371
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/1984
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 317,686
Product dimensions: 4.12(w) x 6.84(h) x 0.88(d)
Lexile: 1290L (what's this?)

About the Author

Alvin Toffler (1928–2016) was an American writer and futurist whose list of bestselling books includes Future Shock, The Third Wave, and Powershift. He was a cofounder of Toffler Associates, a consulting firm for companies and governments worldwide on advances in economics, technology, and social change. In France, where his work won the prestigious Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book Prize), Alvin was named an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The 800th Lifetime

In the three short decades between now and the twenty-first century, millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future. Citizens of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations, many of them will find it increasingly painful to keep up with the incessant demand for change that characterizes our time. For them, the future will have arrived too soon.

This book is about change and how we adapt to it. It is about those who seem to thrive on change, who crest its waves joyfully, as well as those multitudes of others who resist it or seek flight from it. It is about our capacity to adapt. It is about the future and the shock that its arrival brings.

Western society for the past 300 years has been caught up in a fire storm of change. This storm, far from abating, now appears to be gathering force. Change sweeps through the highly industrialized countries with waves of ever accelerating speed and unprecedented impact. It spawns in its wake all sorts of curious social flora—from psychedelic churches and “free universities” to science cities in the Arctic and wife-swap clubs in California.

It breeds odd personalities, too: children who at twelve are no longer childlike; adults who at fifty are children of twelve. There are rich men who playact poverty, computer programmers who turn on with LSD. There are anarchists who, beneath their dirty denim shirts, are outrageous conformists, and conformists who, beneath their button-down collars, are outrageous anarchists. There are married priests and atheist ministers and Jewish Zen Buddhists. We have pop . . . ​and op . . . ​and art cinétique . . . ​There are Playboy Clubs and homosexual movie theaters . . . ​amphetamines and tranquilizers . . . ​anger, affluence, and oblivion. Much oblivion.

Is there some way to explain so strange a scene without recourse to the jargon of psychoanalysis or the murky clichés of existentialism? A strange new society is apparently erupting in our midst. Is there a way to understand it, to shape its development? How can we come to terms with it?

Much that now strikes us as incomprehensible would be far less so if we took a fresh look at the racing rate of change that makes reality seem, sometimes, like a kaleidoscope run wild. For the acceleration of change does not merely buffet industries or nations. It is a concrete force that reaches deep into our personal lives, compels us to act out new roles, and confronts us with the danger of a new and powerfully upsetting psychological disease. This new disease can be called “future shock,” and a knowledge of its sources and symptoms helps explain many things that otherwise defy rational analysis.

The Unprepared Visitor

The parallel term “culture shock” has already begun to creep into the popular vocabulary. Culture shock is the effect that immersion in a strange culture has on the unprepared visitor. Peace Corps volunteers suffer from it in Borneo or Brazil. Marco Polo probably suffered from it in Cathay. Culture shock is what happens when a traveler suddenly finds himself in a place where yes may mean no, where a “fixed price” is negotiable, where to be kept waiting in an outer office is no cause for insult, where laughter may signify anger. It is what happens when the familiar psychological cues that help an individual to function in society are suddenly withdrawn and replaced by new ones that are strange or incomprehensible.

The culture shock phenomenon accounts for much of the bewilderment, frustration, and disorientation that plagues Americans in their dealings with other societies. It causes a breakdown in communication, a misreading of reality, an inability to cope. Yet culture shock is relatively mild in comparison with the much more serious malady, future shock. Future shock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future. It may well be the most important disease of tomorrow.

Future shock will not be found in Index Medicus or in any listing of psychological abnormalities. Yet, unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it, millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments. The malaise, mass neurosis, irrationality, and free-floating violence already apparent in contemporary life are merely a foretaste of what may lie ahead unless we come to understand and treat this disease.

Future shock is a time phenomenon, a product of the greatly accelerated rate of change in society. It arises from the superimposition of a new culture on an old one. It is culture shock in one’s own society. But its impact is far worse. For most Peace Corps men, in fact most travelers, have the comforting knowledge that the culture they left behind will be there to return to. The victim of future shock does not.

Take an individual out of his own culture and set him down suddenly in an environment sharply different from his own, with a different set of cues to react to—different conceptions of time, space, work, love, religion, sex, and everything else—then cut him off from any hope of retreat to a more familiar social landscape, and the dislocation he suffers is doubly severe. Moreover, if this new culture is itself in constant turmoil, and if—worse yet—its values are incessantly changing, the sense of disorientation will be still further intensified. Given few clues as to what kind of behavior is rational under the radically new circumstances, the victim may well become a hazard to himself and others.

Now imagine not merely an individual but an entire society, an entire generation—including its weakest, least intelligent, and most irrational members—suddenly transported into this new world. The result is mass disorientation, future shock on a grand scale.

This is the prospect that man now faces. Change is avalanching upon our heads and most people are grotesquely unprepared to cope with it.

Break with the Past

Is all this exaggerated? I think not. It has become a cliché to say that what we are now living through is a “second industrial revolution.” This phrase is supposed to impress us with the speed and profundity of the change around us. But in addition to being platitudinous, it is misleading. For what is occurring now is, in all likelihood, bigger, deeper, and more important than the industrial revolution. Indeed, a growing body of reputable opinion asserts that the present movement represents nothing less than the second great divide in human history, comparable in magnitude only with that first great break in historic continuity, the shift from barbarism to civilization.

This idea crops up with increasing frequency in the writings of scientists and technologists. Sir George Thomson, the British physicist and Nobel prizewinner, suggests in The Foreseeable Future that the nearest historic parallel with today is not the industrial revolution but rather the “invention of agriculture in the neolithic age.” John Diebold, the American automation expert, warns that “the effects of the technological revolution we are now living through will be deeper than any social change we have experienced before.” Sir Leon Bagrit, the British computer manufacturer, insists that automation by itself represents “the greatest change in the whole history of mankind.”

Nor are the men of science and technology alone in these views. Sir Herbert Read, the philosopher of art, tells us that we are living through “a revolution so fundamental that we must search many past centuries for a parallel. Possibly the only comparable change is the one that took place between the Old and the New Stone Age . . .” And Kurt W. Marek, who under the name C. W. Ceram is best-known as the author of Gods, Graves and Scholars, observes that “we, in the twentieth century, are concluding an era of mankind five thousand years in length . . . ​We are not, as Spengler supposed, in the situation of Rome at the beginning of the Christian West, but in that of the year 3000 b.c. We open our eyes like prehistoric man, we see a world totally new.”

One of the most striking statements of this theme has come from Kenneth Boulding, an eminent economist and imaginative social thinker. In justifying his view that the present moment represents a crucial turning point in human history, Boulding observes that “as far as many statistical series related to activities of mankind are concerned, the date that divides human history into two equal parts is well within living memory.” In effect, our century represents The Great Median Strip running down the center of human history. Thus he asserts, “The world of today . . . ​is as different from the world in which I was born as that world was from Julius Caesar’s. I was born in the middle of human history, to date, roughly. Almost as much has happened since I was born as happened before.”

This startling statement can be illustrated in a number of ways. It has been observed, for example, that if the last 50,000 years of man’s existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately sixty-two years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 800, fully 650 were spent in caves.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1 The Death of Permanence 7

Chapter 1 The 800th Lifetime 9

The Unprepared Visitor 10

Break with the Past 12

Chapter 2 The Accelerative Thrust 20

Time and Change 21

Subterranean Cities 23

The Technological Engine 26

Knowledge as Fuel 32

The Flow of Situations 34

Chapter 3 The Pace of Life 38

People of the Future 39

Durational Expectancy 44

The Concept of Transience 47

Part 2 Transience 51

Chapter 4 Things: The Throw-Away Society 53

The Paper Wedding Gown 54

The Missing Supermarket 57

The Economics of Impermanence 59

The Portable Playground 60

The Modular "Fun Palace" 62

The Rental Revolution 66

Temporary Needs 70

The Fad Machine 74

Chapter 5 Places: The New Nomads 78

The 3,000,000-Mile Club 79

Flamenco in Sweden 82

Migration to the Future 84

Suicides and Hitch-hikers 88

The Mournful Movers 92

The Homing Instinct 94

The Demise of Geography 97

Chapter 6 People: The Modular Man 100

The Cost of "Involvement" 101

The Duration of Human Relationships 104

The Hurry-up Welcome 107

Friendships in the Future 112

Monday-to-Friday Friends 114

Recruits and Defectors 117

Rent-a-Person 121

How to Lose Friends… 123

How Many Friends? 125

Training Children for Turnover 127

Chapter 7 Organization: The Coming Ad-hocracy 131

Catholics, Cliques and Coffee Breaks 133

The Organizational Upheaval 135

The New Ad-hocracy 139

The Collapse of Hierarchy 144

Beyond Bureaucracy 150

Chapter 8 Information: The Kinetic Image 161

Twiggy and the K-Mesons 165

The Freudian Wave 167

A Blizzard of Best Sellers 171

The Engineered Message 172

Mozart on the Run 176

The Semi-literate Shakespeare 179

Art: Cubists and Kineticists 183

The Neural Investment 188

Part 3 Novelty 193

Chapter 9 The Scientific Trajectory 195

The New Atlantis 198

Sunlight and Personality 201

The Voice of the Dolphin 203

The Biological Factory 205

The Pre-designed Body 207

The Transient Organ 216

The Cyborgs among Us 220

The Denial of Change 226

Chapter 10 The Experience Makers 230

The Psychic Cake-Mix 232

"Serving Wenches" in the Sky 235

Experiential Industries 237

Simulated Environments 239

Live Environments 241

The Economics of Sanity 246

Chapter 11 The Fractured Family 250

The Mystique of Motherhood 251

The Streamlined Family 254

Bio-Parents and Pro-Parents 255

Communes and Homosexual Daddies 257

The Odds Against Lore 262

Temporary Marriage 264

Marriage Trajectories 266

The Demands of Freedom 269

Part 4 Diversity 275

Chapter 12 The Origins of Overchoice 277

Design-a-Mustang 278

Computers and Classrooms 284

"Drag Queen" Movies 291

Chapter 13 A Surfeit of Subcults 299

Scientists and Stockbrokers 301

The Fun Specialists 303

The Youth Ghetto 306

Marital Tribes 309

Hippies, Incorporated 310

Tribal Turnover 312

The Ignoble Savage 315

Chapter 14 A Diversity of Life Styles 319

Motorcyclists and Intellectuals 321

Style-Setters and Mint-Heroes 324

Life Style Factories 325

The Power of Style 328

A Superabundance of Selves 332

The Free Society 338

Part 5 The Limits of Adaptability 341

Chapter 15 Future Shock: The Physical Dimension 343

Life-Change and Illness 345

Response to Novelty 352

The Adaptive Reaction 356

Chapter 16 Future Shock: The Psychological Dimension 362

The Overstimulated Individual 363

Bombardment of the Senses 367

Information Overload 370

Decision Stress 375

Victims of Future Shock 379

The Future-Shocked Society 385

Part 6 Strategies for Survival 389

Chapter 17 Coping with Tomorrow 391

Direct Coping 394

Personal Stability Zones 397

Situational Grouping 403

Crisis Counseling 406

Half-way Houses 409

Enclaves of the Past 411

Enclaves of the Future 413

Global Space Pageants 414

Chapter 18 Education in the Future Tense 419

The Industrial Era School 420

The New Educational Revolution 423

The Organizational Attack 427

Yesterday's Curriculum Today 431

A Diversity of Data 433

A System of Skills 435

The Strategy of Futureness 441

Chapter 19 Taming Technology 451

Technological Backlash 453

Selecting Cultural Styles 455

Transistors and Sex 460

A Technology Ombudsman 464

The Environmental Screen 467

Chapter 20 The Strategy of Social Futurism 470

The Death of Technocracy 471

The Humanization of the Planner 476

Time Horizons 483

Anticipatory Democracy 496

Acknowledgments 515

Notes 517

Bibliography 551

Index 573

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