The other day I saw in a New York Times article that Alvin Toffler had died last month. The article wasn’t really an obituary so much as about Future Shock, the book Toffler wrote back in 1970. If you’re around my age, you may remember him and the book; both were a bit of a big deal.
I hadn’t thought about that book since back then, but as the Times writer points out, “it seems clear that his diagnosis has largely panned out, with local and global crises arising daily from our collective inability to deal with ever-faster change.” Truer words! Even in 1970, the technological pace was starting to affect people in bad ways, and it certainly hasn’t gotten any better since.
The article really struck a chord! I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately — and have written a few posts — about the growing disconnect between people and their grasp of the technological modern world.
What is crucial about what Toffler wrote in Future Shock is that it goes beyond mere feelings of stress and angst. Future shock amounts to an actual mental malady. Toffler defined it as, “too much change in too short a period of time.”
I’ve written before about how, while people may not have changed, society and technology have, so to think modern life is the same old thing as always is foolish.
Yes, we have always had the same thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
But the framework — modern society — we have them in is very different, and the pace of that increasing difference is accelerating.
Even the pace of the acceleration is accelerating! If people struggled to keep up in 1970 — 40+ years ago — it has only gotten worse today.
To quote the great Carl Sagan (from his 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark):
“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements — transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting, profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
In fact, that humans haven’t changed in thousands of years might be part of the problem. We don’t seem to have evolved the ability to sanely keep pace with our tools and toys. (Along, perhaps, with a bit too much lust for said tools and toys.)
That young people today — who were born into this fast-paced technological environment — still feel the disconnect and the angst, it suggests we may not be adapting. Perhaps adaptation is neither possible nor desirable.
I was amused by an article in Wired the other day: I Can’t Believe I’m Saying This, But I Miss My CDs.
It was about how the author missed the tangible permanent physical reality of CDs compared to the multiple online services (which don’t always carry all the music you want) and the cloud (which can lose things).
Our headlong rush into the advantages these things brings sometimes blinds us to what we’re losing. Or what they will cost us down the road.
I’m tempted to buy a copy of Future Shock just to see how prescient it turned out to be. On the other hand, it’s likely to give me an even dimmer view of modern living. (If that’s even possible.)
Or at the least, make me depressed about how far we haven’t come.
And, as usual, my answer: Education.
Take it seriously and get a good one.
It’s too late for the adults; they’re a lost cause, but think of the children!
It’s not too late for them!