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Future Shock

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Future Shock
AuthorAlvin Toffler
SubjectSocial Sciences
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
ISBN0-394-42586-3 (original hardcover)
Followed byThe Third Wave 

Future Shock is a 1970 book by American futurist Alvin Toffler,[1] written together with his spouse Adelaide Farrell,[2][3] in which the authors define the term "future shock" as a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies. The shortest definition for the term in the book is a personal perception of "too much change in too short a period of time". The book, which became an international bestseller, has sold over 6 million copies and has been widely translated.

The book grew out of an article "The Future as a Way of Life" in Horizon magazine, Summer 1965 issue.[4][5][6][7]

Major themes[edit]

Future shock[edit]

Alvin Toffler argued that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a "super-industrial society". This change overwhelms people. He argues that the accelerated rate of technological and social change leaves people disconnected and suffering from "shattering stress and disorientation"—future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems are symptoms of future shock. In his discussion of the components of such shock he popularized the term "information overload."

This analysis of the phenomenon of information overload is continued in later publications, especially The Third Wave and Powershift.

In the introduction to an essay titled "Future Shock" in his book, Conscientious Objections, Neil Postman wrote:

Sometime about the middle of 1963, my colleague Charles Weingartner and I delivered in tandem an address to the National Council of Teachers of English. In that address we used the phrase "future shock" as a way of describing the social paralysis induced by rapid technological change. To my knowledge, Weingartner and I were the first people ever to use it in a public forum. Of course, neither Weingartner nor I had the brains to write a book called Future Shock, and all due credit goes to Alvin Toffler for having recognized a good phrase when one came along. (p. 162)

Development of society and production[edit]

Alvin Toffler distinguished three stages in development of society and production: agrarian, industrial and post-industrial.

Each of these waves develops its own "super-ideology” in order to explain reality. This ideology affects all the spheres which make up a civilization phase: technology, social patterns, information patterns, and power patterns.

The first stage began in the period of the Neolithic Era with the advent of agriculture, thereby passing from barbarity to a civilization. A large number of people acted as prosumers (eating their grown food, hunting animals, building their own houses, making clothes,....). People traded by exchanging their own goods for commodities of others. The second stage began in England with the Industrial Revolution with the invention of the machine tool and the steam engine. People worked in factories to make money they could spend on goods they needed (it means they produced for exchange, not for use). Countries also created new social systems. The third stage began in the second half of the 20th century in the West when people invented automatic production, robotics and the computer. The services sector attained great value.

Toffler proposed one criterion for distinguishing between industrial society and post-industrial society: the share of the population occupied in agriculture versus the share of city labor occupied in the services sector. In a post-industrial society, the share of the people occupied in agriculture does not exceed 15%, and the share of city laborers occupied in the services sector exceeds 50%. Thus, the share of the people occupied with brainwork greatly exceeds the share of the people occupied with physical work in post-industrial society.

The third wave led to the Information Era (now). Homes are the dominant institutions. Most people carry on their own production and consumption in their homes or electronic cottages, they produce more of their own products and services and markets become less important for them. People consider each other to be equally free as vendors of prosumer-generated commodities.

Fear of the future[edit]

Midtown Manhattan in New York City, the largest central business district in the United States

Alvin Toffler's main thought centers on the idea that modern humans feel shock from rapid changes. For example, Toffler's daughter went to shop in New York City and she couldn't find a shop in its previous location. Thus New York has become a city without a history. The overall production of goods and services doubles each 50 years in developed countries. Society experiences an increasing number of changes with an increasing rapidity, while people are losing the familiarity that old institutions (religion, family, national identity, profession) once provided. The so-called "brain drain" – the emigration of European scientists to the United States – is both an indicator of the changes in society and also one of their causes.

Features of post-industrial society[edit]

A generic, disposable lighter
  • Many goods have become disposable as the cost of manual repair or cleaning has become greater than the cost of making new goods due to mass production. Examples of disposable goods include ballpoint pens, lighters, plastic bottles, and paper towels.
  • The design of goods becomes outdated quickly. (And so, for example, a second generation of computers appears before the end of the expected period of usability of the first generation). It is possible to rent almost everything (from a ladder to a wedding dress), thus eliminating the need for ownership.
  • Whole branches of industry die off and new branches of industry arise. This affects unskilled workers who are compelled to change their residence to find new jobs. The constant change in the market also poses a problem for advertisers who must deal with moving targets.
  • People of post-industrial society change their profession and their workplace often. People have to change professions because professions quickly become outdated. People of post-industrial society thus have many careers in a lifetime. The knowledge of an engineer becomes outdated in ten years. People look more and more for temporary jobs.
  • To follow transient jobs, people have become nomads. For example, immigrants from Algeria, Turkey and other countries go to Europe to find work. Transient people are forced to change residence, phone number, school, friends, car license, and contact with family often. As a result, relationships tend to be superficial with a large number of people, instead of being intimate or close relationships that are more stable. Evidence for this is tourist travel and holiday romances.
  • The driver's license, received at age 16, has become the teenager's admission to the world of adults, because it symbolizes the ability to move independently.
  • Death of Permanence. The post industrial society will be marked by a transient culture where everything ranging from goods to human relationships will be temporary.

Significance and reception[edit]

The book sold over 6 million copies within five years[8] and has been widely translated (it had translations into twenty foreign languages as of 2003).[9] It has been described as "an international bestseller within weeks of publication".[10]

A documentary film based on the book was released in 1972 with Orson Welles as on-screen narrator.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alvin Toffler: still shocking after all these years - Interview". New Scientist. 19 March 1994.
  2. ^ Schneider, Keith (2019-02-12). "Heidi Toffler, Unsung Force Behind Futurist Books, Dies at 89". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  3. ^ "Future Shock at 40: What the Tofflers Got Right (and Wrong)". Fast Company. 15 October 2010.
  4. ^ Toffler, Alvin, "The Future as a Way of Life", Horizon magazine, Summer 1965, Vol VII, Num 3
  5. ^ "For the love of reading: Horizon Magazine hardcover issues 1959 - 1977 table of contents". September 8, 2013.
  6. ^ Eisenhart, Mary, "Alvin And Heidi Toffler: Surfing The Third Wave: On Life And Work In The Information Age", MicroTimes #118, January 3, 1994
  7. ^ "Alvin Toffler: still shocking after all these years: New Scientist meets the controversial futurologist" Archived 2009-02-10 at the Wayback Machine, New Scientist, 19 March 1994, pp. 22–25. "What led you to write Future Shock? – While covering Congress, it occurred to us that big technological and social changes were occurring in the United States, but that the political system seemed totally blind to their existence. Between 1955 and 1960, the birth control pill was introduced, television became universalized, commercial jet travel came into being and a whole raft of other technological events occurred. Having spent several years watching the political process, we came away feeling that 99 per cent of what politicians do is keep systems running that were laid in place by previous generations of politicians. Our ideas came together in 1965 in an article called 'The future as a way of life', which argued that change was going to accelerate and that the speed of change could induce disorientation in lots of people. We coined the phrase 'future shock' as an analogy to the concept of culture shock. With future shock you stay in one place but your own culture changes so rapidly that it has the same disorienting effect as going to another culture"
  8. ^ W. Warren Wagar (1991). The Next Three Futures: Paradigms of Things to Come. Greenwood Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-313-26528-0.
  9. ^ Corneliu Vadim Tudor (2003). Romania's One Way Ticket to the Future. Greater Romania Foundation Publishing House. p. 55. ISBN 978-973-86070-4-0.
  10. ^ Morgen Witzel (15 May 2005). Encyclopedia of History of American Management. A&C Black. p. 501. ISBN 978-1-84371-131-5.
  11. ^ "Future Shock: Orson Welles Narrates a 1972 Film About the Perils of Technological Change | Open Culture". Retrieved 2021-02-05.