One of the themes which I
choose to discuss in this book is the concurrent theme of the Great
Change, which can be called any number of things. We tend to speak of
the Industrial Revolution as an event of some past century, and the
economic upheaval of our own times as something else again, such as the
"Third Industrial Revolution." In point of fact, if we truly look at
the changes which mankind is experiencing, we will see that they are so
great, and so significant, that a mere matter of a few centuries would
in no way be enough to digest them all. In fact, mankind actively
resists this sort of massive change, and those who can most rapidly
adapt to it are those who will prosper in these turbulent times. The
rest of us will merely watch, or perhaps hide our heads in the sand.16
In July of 1970, a book was first published which discussed in detail the cultural disruption which is caused by a rapidly advancing state of change. Let us look at some of the main themes from this landmark book, "Future Shock," by Alvin Toffler:
"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. ¶ . . . ¶ . . .
"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.17 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 life18 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.19 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.20 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.21
"Now imagine not merely an individual but an entire society, and entire generation - including the 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.22
"BREAK WITH THE PAST23
"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."24 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.25
"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.'26 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.'27 Sir Leon Bagrit, the British computer manufacturer, insists that automation by itself represents `the greatest change in the whole history of mankind.'28
"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 . . .'29 And Kurt W. Marek, who under the same 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.'30"
At this point in his first chapter, Toffler jumps off into a statistical analysis which is grossly flawed in methodology. For those who understand a bit of calculus, Toffler does not adequately distinguish between the shape of the primary curve and the first and second derivatives. From the conclusion of the Old Stone Age about 10,000 years ago, mankind has always lived in a state of constant change.31 Farms beget villages; villages beget cities; cities beget Cultures; and Cultures beget Civilizations. All of those patterns are repeated time and again, in different regions of the world, as Spengler and Toynbee so eloquently note. The middle east, particularly where Israel is now, has lived under the rule of, or been otherwise strongly influenced by, no less than five distinct civilizations: Egyptian, Mesopotamian (particularly Assyrian), Classical (Greeks and Romans), Arab, and Western. If you grant the Jews their own civilization for their accomplishments in Jerusalem around 1200 b. c., you would add a sixth civilization to that mix. Thus, the peoples of that region have been undergoing cyclical changes in civilization for literally thousands of years!
16 The old adage goes: "There are three kinds of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask: `What happened?'" These are the same three groups to which my own reference pertains.
17 I must note, at this point, that the dissemination of American Culture throughout the world by way of our mass media (radio, television, movies, etc.), combined with the education and cultural sensitivity promoted by our own exposure to this same mass media, has very much reduced the prior vast differences between American and foreign cultures, and has also vastly increased the knowledge of the average Americans of those cultural differences which remain. It is an uneducated and/or naive American tourist who would fail to purchase at least the most rudimentary guidebook which explained the cultural customs of the nation or nations to which a visit is planned. Thus, I would assert that the phenomenon of "culture shock" has been much reduced in the quarter century since Future Shock was published. This has occurred, in part, because American Culture has become the ideal representation for the final years of Western Civilization, and virtually all nations throughout the world are adapting to American Culture, at least to some significant degree.
18 I believe these are a consequence of the decline of the West, and NOT due to "future shock."
19 This assertion would appear to lead to a conclusion that other nations would be suffering much more from "future shock" than would Americans because it is American Culture which is being forced down the throats of virtually the entire world. The French are the most resentful of this phenomenon, and actively seek to suppress appearances of American Culture in French life. Nonetheless, they can't keep it out altogether, and most other nations around the world are not even trying.
20 I take some exception to the implications of this sentence. All cultures are either in a state of change or they are "dead" (from the point of view of Spengler, at least). In other words, this sort of constant change in values is "normal" for any "live" culture. As Toffler makes somewhat clearer somewhat later, it is not so much the change itself which is "bad" for the individual or the society, but instead an acceleration in the rate at which changes arrive which causes the afflictions he decries.
21 We must not lose sight of the adaptability of mankind, particularly from one generation to the next. One of the errors which Toffler makes is to analyze change in terms of a human lifetime. I think the proper measure would be more in terms of a human generation (i. e., 20 to 30 years instead of 60 to 70 years).
22 This is, again, an overstatement. We may feel unprepared to cope with it, but our children are raised in a society which accepts it as normal. This enables our children to cope with it quite well. We ourselves now feel it is normal that our children will have very different values than our own. See?
23 The title of this section would suggest that the change which we are experiencing is somehow a "sudden" change. I would assert that most changes, if analyzed thoroughly enough, are quite gradual.
24 It is only 25 years later, and we are either into or through a "Third Industrial Revolution." As Toffler and I will jointly discuss as this section progresses, there is really only one social revolution, and it is of truly historic proportions. The fact that it has been implemented in phases is merely a consequence of the limited adaptability of mankind, and the need for this "revolution" to fit itself into the natural cultural changes associated with Western Civilization.
25 Amen. This sentence represents my own feelings exactly. For millions of years, mankind and his predecessors lived in a barbaric state of existence, hardly distinguishable from any of the other animals on the face of the Earth. Then one day, about 8,500 to 10,000 years ago (more or less), mankind began to farm. That change is sometimes referred to as the "Agricultural Revolution." Many learned men (and women) have asserted that this change naturally led to the cycle of cultural formation and civilization which Spengler neatly analyzed. The Industrial Revolution began in England about the middle of the eighteenth century (i. e., about 1750), and naturally spread from there. From that point in time, agricultural goods as a percentage of the total economy has dramatically decreased. It is merely a matter of semantics whether you choose to think of this ongoing process of change as a continuation of the Industrial Revolution, or as something else, as Toffler asserts in this sentence. We will not, and truly cannot, know the answer for several centuries yet. We named the Agricultural Revolution from a point in time when it was obvious as the first great divide in human history. We will not be able to accurately name the current revolution, or accurately describe its consequences and processes, until it has long been over, a point which must exist in our own far distant future. It is even more clear to me now, than it was to Toffler in 1970, that we have clearly reached this second great dividing point in human history. Toffler and I only disagree on the semantics and the process of naming that divide. For the time being, the term "Industrial Revolution" still conveys the thought which I intend to convey: a dramatic break with our agricultural past. But for the thesis which Toffler seeks to assert to be valid, Toffler must also separate the occurrences in our own times from those which are associated with the historic "Industrial Revolution," beginning roughly 300 years ago. I do not believe that to be a valid assertion. Whatever is now going on to create "the second great divide in human history," those events have their roots in the break from thousands of years of agricultural traditions, and that break is generally called the "Industrial Revolution." So, it is wrong for Toffler to assert that this great change is "bigger, deeper, and more important than the industrial revolution." A thing cannot be compared with itself as anything other than an identity. The phenomena which we are currently experiencing are a direct consequence of the Industrial Revolution, and are thus in no way distinct from that process. So, the comparison which Toffler asserts is totally invalid.
26 I would agree with Sir George. See footnote 25. Again, as noted in the prior footnote, whether you call our present times an extension of the Industrial Revolution or something else which deserves distinction from the Industrial Revolution is a semantic question which we will not be able to answer with some accuracy for several centuries, by which time the changes will have played themselves out.
27 I would also agree with Mr. Diebold. The change from a hunter-gatherer society to one based upon agriculture was simply a change to staying in one place and raising the animals and plants which you would otherwise choose to hunt or gather. The social changes we are now living through are of clearly more dramatic consequence to the soul of mankind.
28 I would not go quite that far. Automation is only one aspect of this great change. It is true that a significant portion of the great change is due to the fact that smaller and smaller percentages of the overall population need to be concerned with the production of goods, and thus ever larger numbers of people are freed to produce services instead. But that is hardly the be-all or end-all of the change which we are now experiencing in our society.
29 This is a virtually identical assertion. The definition of the division between the Old Stone Age (now usually called the Paleolithic Age) and the New Stone Age (now usually subdivided into the Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages) is the invention of agriculture. (see Book IV, Section D.)
30 I would quibble with Mr. Marek in two substantial respects. First, we should probably replace 5000 years with 10,000 years, making 3000 b. c. into 8000 b. c. We are clearly concluding the agricultural age of mankind, which began about ten thousand years ago. Next, Spengler asserted that we are between Alexander and Cæsar, and I have no cause to disagree with him on that point. Thus, as explained later, we simultaneously conclude agriculture and the democratic Rome of 54 b. c.
31 In fact, if you want to consider seasonal changes, then mankind has always lived in a state of constant change. Most scientists knowledgeable in the geologic and archeological records would agree that mankind arose long after our current pattern of seasons was established.
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