Future Shock  

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Future Shock is a 1970 book by American futurist Alvin Toffler, written together with his spouse Adelaide Farrell, 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.

Major themes

Future shock

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 entitled "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

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

[[File:ChryslerBuildingMidtownManhattanNewYorkCity.jpg|thumb|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 man feels 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 urban population doubles every 11 years. 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

  • 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

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

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

In popular culture

The 1981 album by the rock band Gillan was named Future Shock after this book. Curtis Mayfield's song "Future Shock" on the album Back to the World took its name from this book, and was in turn covered by Herbie Hancock as the title track for his 1983 album Future Shock. That album was considered groundbreaking for fusing jazz and funk with electronic music. Stanley Clarke performed a song with the same title on his 1984 album Time Exposure. The rock band, BANG released "Future Shock" on their self titled Capitol Records release in 1972. October 2019 would see the release of metapop artist Kurt Riley's single FTR SHK.

In the 1974 movie The Parallax View the character Joe relates a story to Lee about a wife having an affair with her psychiatrist and then a bulldozer knocking down his house by calling it future shock.

Other works taking their title from the book include: the Futurama episode "Future Stock"; the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Future Schlock," The Gordons 1981 EP on Flying Nun Records; a segment on The Daily Show starring Samantha Bee; Kevin Goldstein's recurring column on the Baseball Prospectus website; a Magic: The Gathering pre-constructed deck; and the National Wrestling Alliance's 1989 Starrcade event.

Since 1977, UK Comic 2000 AD has run a series of short stories called Future Shocks based on this concept, some of which were written by Alan Moore. The abbreviated derogatory term Futsies was applied to citizens in 2000 AD stories (mainly in the Judge Dredd universe) who had been driven insane by Future Shock.

Works deriving themes and elements from Future Shock include the science fiction novels The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman, The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brunner, the RPG Transhuman Space (2002) by Steve Jackson Games, and the indie RPG Shock: Social Science Fiction (2006) by designer Joshua A.C. Newman. Experimental music group Death Grips use the lyric "Culture shock, future shock, fuck yourself, choke yourself" in their song "Culture Shock".

The line "You knocked a future shock crowbar upside my head" occurs in the track "The Outsiders" on the alternative rock band R.E.M.'s 2004 album Around the Sun.

In 2011, a song titled "Future Shock" by Darwin, Obie, and Mr-E appeared on the album Nu Nrg 100, the final installment of the world-renowned label Nu Energy, while Brooklyn-based band TV on the Radio included a song titled "No Future Shock" on their album Nine Types of Light. The same year, the Unsound Music Festival in Krakow, Poland took the concept of 'future shock' as its theme. Rapper Mos Def included a reference to the book title in his song entitled Mathematics.

William Brittelle, the Brooklyn-based composer of pop-influenced electro-acoustic art music, has an album called Future Shock.

The sense of future shock is an integral aspect of cyberpunk.

Futureshock were also an electronic music duo recording for Junior Boys Own and Parlophone / EMI. The members were Phil Dockerty and Alex Tepper.

A copy of the book can be seen lying on the deceased Wendell Armbruster Sr.'s desk in the 1972 movie Avanti! starring Jack Lemmon.

In the episode "A Friend in Deed" (1974) of the television series Columbo, a colleague says to Lt. Columbo, "Haven't you ever heard of future shock? The world's going to hell with itself."

See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Future Shock" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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