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Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

01/06/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Future Shock in the USA - or Buy Future Shock in the UK

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pub: Pan. 707 page indexed paperback. Price: a few pence depending on which edition you buy (UK) if you know where to look for a 70s book. ISBN: 0-330-02861-8.

'Future Shock' is another book I picked up, having heard of it by reputation and to see forty years down the line whether it has an relevance today and see how accurate author Alvin Toffler was. Most of this is a study of the American population, although some aspects should look familiar to us who don't live there and gives insight into the US society of the time.

With 'Chapter Four: Things: The Throwaway Society', he accounted for the rental aspect of American culture at the time which was a sharp contrast then as it is now. I never realised how much the affluent people across the pond rented so much but it put the original film of 'Fun With Dick And Jane' in perspective when their garden was stripped down. Then again, why rent a garden when it's quicker to grow your own? Must be a British thing.

The migratory habits of the American population back then was staggeringly 36 million a year. The chapter about how quickly things change is very much true today and how vogue words last the least time even more so and probably why they don't turn up in novels lest they become dated. The same applies to celebrities and probably explains why some re-invent themselves for a new generation rather than look dated (I wonder if they read this book?). It's a shame Toffler never considered how a few celebrity stars become timeless and why though.

'Chapter 9: The Scientific Trajectory' is definitely acknowledged as being in Science Fiction territory and Toffler was actually quite close to how things are developing. We are making advances into having and accepting cyborgs, or at least artificial limbs, into our society purely as a matter of course. Granted limb movement is still pretty basic but connecting electrics to nerves has made great strides in recent years. I doubt if he would have foreseen how the Genome Project would have been here now but the ready use of transplant surgery has radically changed many lives.

'Chapter 10: The Scientific Trajectory' looks thirty years into the future of the year 2000. Now, in 2010, we can look back at what Toffler thought might happen. He thinks experience museums would have grown. Yes, they had. Instead of going in and look at exhibits you can press buttons and all kinds of things these days. However, getting simulated really grew with the digital age in ways he couldn't have foreseen. Even so, he was right about it happening, especially people getting simulated experience in computer game variants in all kinds of careers these days.

'Chapter 11: The Fractured Family' examines how mobility was reducing the family size in America. Not to much how many children but the number of supporting kin nearby to help out. Toffler doesn't take into account both parents going to work but maybe that was the norm back then.

Three chapters are devoted to social grouping based on job or hobbies is still true today although I think Toffler under-estimated that people don't mind and can happily juggle belonging to different social groupings simultaneously although grouping is important for a lot of people. Of course, with the Net, the absence of appearance means the only stumbling block is how much you want to discuss a subject.

The two chapters devoted to the future shock of the title is really the forerunner of what we see today in terms of culture shock and where some elements of any country's population resist change that is going on about them. You can trace the origins of this right back to the Industrial Revolution and, if anything, it's an argument that you can't beat the march of progress. Personally, I would be more inclined to ensure the best solutions are used than try to hold anything back but that's me in my scientific mode.

The last couple chapters examine why people are resistant to change which hasn't really changed in the past thirty years. If anything, I wouldn't be surprised that the aspect of social networking down the computer line has just increased their communication power base which must be counter-productive to keeping the status quo or refuse to accept some developments or at least find alternative solutions. Toffler gives some insight into this but doesn't offer much in the way of solution. I often wonder if having contrary opinions just ensures that all options are considered.

In many respects, an update of the statistics would be interesting to see today. I've noticed Toffler has written other books but can't find any obvious successor to this book. From the Science Fiction perspective and he does say some nice things about the subject allowing ease for us to accept technological development, this book still offers some interesting insight which should help your internal ideas machine so it's worth seeking out. I certainly came away a little more informed.

GF Willmetts

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