Book: Future Shock

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler was published 40 years ago.  I must have read it around the time I turned 10.  As a kid my parents fed me a steady diet of books that were more than I was ready for at the time, but I gobbled them down anyway.  I vaguely recall Future Shock being one of them.

A month ago I decided to read it again.  Ironically, it’s not available on the Kindle so I had to buy (and lug around) a paperback copy of it.  The one I have appears to be on it’s 62nd printing according to the title page (that’s a lot of books.)  I read it over the course of a few days – it’s long as has some sections that require slower reading to make sure you get the nuance.

I love to read “old science fiction” – stuff written in the 1950’s – 1980’s about the time frame from 2010 – 2040.  It hadn’t occurred to me that “old futurism” would be equally interesting, satisfying, and enlightening.  Future Shock did not disappoint me – it was stunningly interesting, even 40 years later.

Like old science fiction, Toffler got some things exactly right and others completely wrong.  Two of the broad themes that were right on target were the “super industrial society” (his phrase for the information age) and what I started calling “mass disposability” as a proxy for the notion of the consumeration of everything.  I was completely fascinated by both of these (which comprised about a third of the book), especially with his prediction that, as humans, we wouldn’t know how to deal with the changes that were coming and they’d create meaningful societal disruptions.

There’s plenty of hippy dippy early 1970’s in here (separation of birth mothers from parents, communes as next generation societies, and temporary marriages) that appeared for a little while before vanishing.  But much of the societal shifts Toffler predicts either materialized in some form or evolved into something more sustainable.

The last section of the book is titled “Strategies for Survival.”  When I read it, I tried to imagine being 45 years old in 1970 and projecting out to 2010.  For some reason, I got a little freaked out by this as I began imagining how different today’s world is for someone who is 85 today.  Then, I lined this notion up next to the world of a 5 year old today (for example, my niece) and tried to imagine what her world would be like in 80 years.  I couldn’t.

If you are looking for something chewy to read over the holidays that will make you think, this is for you.

  • Just finished “The Innovators Dilemma” today, and was looking for a new book for the next few days. This is perfect, will pick it up today. Thanks!

  • Archie Pugh-O’Connor

    I read Future Shock for the first time in 7th grade Social Studies. I recall the analogy Toffler made of tissues vs. handkerchiefs. Tissues being a clear barometer of our increasingly disposal society vs. that of the generation before with their handkerchiefs in pocket…much more secure in that they were not disposable.

    Last week I bought handkerchiefs, much to the displeasure of my better whole who entered a logic of birthing illness by carrying said rag. I said nostalgia and peace of mind, trump petri dish.

    Thanks for the post:)

    • The tissue vs. handkerchief is a great one – it really captures the
      societal shift that was going on at the time.

  • Dorfman

    “Of course I am from France….why do you think I have this outraaaageous French accent?”

    ~ Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  • UCBert

    For five years from now try Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. A fabulous read.

  • Katherine

    It is pleasant surprise to see that even though “Future Shock” was written in 1970, it is still totally pertinent nowadays the basic truths have largely come to pass. The world has changed in many of the ways predicted by Toffler. Biologically, humanity has mostly stayed the same. But ideologically, we have progressed. I think change is something that we must face. Whether related to technology or not, it does not matter. My final advice to the good reader is, he or she must approach this book using a first-hand judgment. Toffler maybe right or wrongs in his predictions and assumptions, one thing for sure is that we have to accept change as part of our lives, because it symbolizes the growth as the evidence of one’s life, however, we need not be overwhelm with this fast pace of innovation but we need to know how to use it and when it is being needed