Book report – “Future Shock”

I think I’ve mentioned it before; I’m not an avid reader. In fact, reading usually makes me quite sleepy, something that I attribute to my parents, who only read to me when it was bed time. I have, however, found a way to get a few pages read while I’m otherwise occupied – I read while I’m on the toilet. I used to use that time for Sudoku puzzles or word-finds, but I figured I’m my own captive audience, so I might as well utilize this time for something that is actually productive.

The book I just finished is “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler and it was originally published in 1970. The opening page touts it as “The most important study of change and adaptation in our time“.

The book attempts to define what many of the changes in the near future will be and how they will affect humanity. Reading this book now, I can see many ideas that have come true as well as some that have not. The book also talks about controlling the amount of “shock” that future changes can bring, because controlling this can keep society from spiraling further out of control (further than we already are).

Of course it’s highly improbable to accurately predict which way society will go 10, 20, 30, or 50 years down the road, unless you plan for and work towards a given outcome.  This book highly recommends future planning because it assumes our society will become one of “Super-Industrialism”, a state where our current industrial society is accelerated exponentially which in turn requires society to adapt at an accelerated pace, something that mankind is not good at doing (in general).

With all of the predictions included in this book, it misses foreseeing one major shift that has already changed the present for so many – the shift to an small elite group of capitalists taking over the government, the media, and the military-industrial complex that president Eisenhower tried to warn us of.

Overall, this was a very good book, both on content and for giving us a peek into the past’s look at the present. I highly recommend that you read it, if you actually want to improve the future.

In the end, the book does define one of the greatest points for humanity, one that has not been addressed in the near-half-a-century since it was first published. The need for the future to be defined, planned and worked towards; instead of just allowing it to happen hap-haphazardly. I’ll copy portions of last chapter here, because it defines the problem and the solution quite succinctly:

“For technocrats suffer from more than eco-think and myopia; they suffer, too, from the virus of elitism. To capture control of change, we shall, therefore, require a final, even more radical breakaway from technocratic tradition: we shall need a revolution in the very way we formulate our social goals.”

“Rising novelty renders irrelevant the traditional goals of our chief institutions – state, church, corporation, army and university. Acceleration produces a faster turnover of goals, a greater transience of purpose. Diversity or fragmentation leads to a relentless multiplication of goals. Caught in this churning, goal cluttered environment, we stagger, future shocked, from crisis to crisis, pursuing a welter of conflicting and self-cancelling purposes.”

“Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in our pathetic attempts to govern our cities.” …… “as in a thousand city halls all over the high-technology nations, technocrats dash, fire bucket in fist, from one conflagration to another without the least semblance of a coherent plan or policy for the urban future.”

“This is not to say that no one is planning. On the contrary; in this seething social brew, technocrat plans, sub-plans and counter-plans pour forth.” …….. “But the plans cancel, contradict, and reinforce one another by accident. Few are logically related to one another, and none to any overall image of the preferred city of the future. No vision – utopian or otherwise – energizes our efforts. No rationally integrated goals bring order to the chaos. And at the national and international levels, the absence of coherent policy is equally marked and doubly dangerous.”

“It is  not simply that we do not know which goals to pursue, as a city or as a nation. The trouble lies deeper. For accelerating change has made obsolete the methods by which we arrive at social goals. The technocrats do not yet understand this, and, reacting to the goals crisis in knee-jerk fashion, they reach for the tried and true methods of the past.” …. “The juggernaut of change continued to roll through America untouched, as it were, by managerial intelligence.”

“The introduction of a systems approach is a major governmental achievement.” …. “But it leaves entirely untouched the profoundly political question of how the overall goals of a government or society are to be chosen in the first place.”

“How are preferable futures to be defined? And by whom? Who is to set the goals for the future?”

“We can not hope to harness the runaway forces of change by assembling a kaffeeklatch of elders to set goals for us or by turning the task over to a “highly technical staff”. A revolutionary new approach of goal-setting is needed.”

“By calling attention to the growing ineptitude of the technocrats and by explicitly challenging not merely the means, but the very goals of industrial society, today’s young radicals do us all a great service. But they no more know how to cope with the goals crisis than the technocrats they scorn.”

“Yet systems of goal formulation based on elitist premises are simply no longer “efficient”. “

“In complex, differentiated societies, vast amounts of information must flow at even faster speeds between the formal organizations and the sub-cultures that make up the whole, and between the layers and sub-structures within these.”

“To assume control over accelerant change, we shall need still more advanced – and more democratic – feedback mechanisms. “

“This suggests that the best way to deal with angry or recalcitrant minorities is to open the system further, bringing them into it as full partners, permitting them to participate in goal-setting, rather than attempting to ostracize or isolate them. ” ….. “In short, in politics, in industry, in education, goals set without the participation of those affected will lead to greater and greater social instability, less and less control over the forces of change; an ever greater danger of cataclysmic, man destroying, upheaval.”

“To master change, we shall therefore need both a clarification of important long-range social goals and a democratization of the way in which we arrive at them. And this means nothing less than the next political revolution in the techno-societies – a breath-taking affirmation of popular democracy.”

“The time has come for a dramatic reassessment of the directions of change, a reassessment made not by the politicians or the sociologists or the clergy or the elitist revolutionaries, not by the technicians or college presidents, but by the people themselves. We need, quite literally, to “go to the people” with a question that is almost never asked of the: What kind of a world do you want in ten, twenty, or thirty years from now?” We need to initiate, in short, a continuing plebiscite on the future.”

“There are no sure-fire techniques for guaranteeing equal representation for all, or for eliciting the wishes of the poor, the inarticulate or the isolated. Yet once we recognize the need to include them, we shall find ways. ” ….. “Imagine the effect if at one level or another a place were provided where all those who will live in the future might voice their wishes about it. Imagine, in short, a global exercise in participatory democracy.”

“To some, this appeal for a form of neo-populism will not doubt seem naive. Yet nothing is more naive than the notion that we can continue politically to run the society the way we do at present. To some, it would appear impractical. Yet nothing is more impractical than the attempt to impose a humane form from above. What was naive under industrialism may be realistic under super-industrialism, what was practical may be absurd.”

“The encouraging fact is that we now have the potential for achieving tremendous breakthroughs in democratic decision-making if we make imaginative use of the new technologies, both “hard” and “soft” that bear on the problem. “

“Such techniques, still primitive today, will become fantastically more sophisticated in the years immediately ahead, providing us with a systematic way to collect and reconcile conflicting images of the preferable future, even from people unskilled in academic debate or parliamentary procedure.”

“Nevertheless, such future-oriented, future-forming events could have enormous political impact. Indeed, they could turn out to be the salvation of the entire system or representative politics -a system now in dire crisis.”

“Still more damaging to democracy is the time-bias of politics. The politician’s time horizon usually extends no further than the next election. “

“We are, for these and other reasons, rushing towards a fateful breakdown of the entire system of political representation. If legislatures are to survive at all, the will need new links with their constituencies, new ties with tomorrow.”

“Today unconscious adaptation is no longer adequate. Faced with the power to alter the gene, to create new species, to populate the planets or to depopulate the Earth, man must now assume conscious control of evolution itself. Avoiding future shock as he rides the waves of change, he must master evolution, shaping tomorrow to human need. Instead of rising in revolt against it, he must, from this historic moment on, anticipate and design the future. ” ….. “A challenge of such proportions demands of us a dramatically new, a more deeply rational response toward change. “

“Change is life itself. But change rampant, change unguided, and change unrestrained, accelerated change overwhelming not only man’s physical defenses but his decisional processes – such change is the enemy of life.”

“Our first and most pressing need, therefore, before we can begin to gently guide our evolutionary destiny, before we can build a humane future, is to halt the runaway acceleration that is subjecting multitudes to the threat of future shock while, at the very same moment, intensifying all problems they must deal with – war, ecological incursions, racism, the obscene contrast between the rich and the poor, the revolt of the young, and the rise of potentially deadly mass irrational-ism.”




About hemibill

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