Time to revisit Toffler?

The other day I was walking down to the shops, pondering why I had become so optimistic about the future of the human race, when the name “Alvin Toffler” popped into my mind. Now I hadn’t thought about Toffler for a long time – in fact I assumed that he was one of those once fashionable figures who had since disappeared from public consciousness. Doing a little, quick research I found his and his wife and co-author, Heidi’s, website, which showed that they were still producing books, making public appearances and so on.
But, before I began my research I dug out a battered copy of his “Third Wave”, which was first published twenty eight years ago. In some respects it shows its age, but the characteristic that I suspect prompted his name to pop into my head still holds. Maybe it’s because of his Marxist background (long since renounced), but he is very good at capturing the ebb, flow, contradictions and clashes of the human activity that make up and shape our world.
You get some sense of this in a quote I used a couple of times way back when in “As We Might Learn: Vannevar Bush where are you now?” and “Managing Creativity” from his “Previews and Premises”, which was my favourite of his early books, which I found much sharper than some of his other writing because it is in the form of a dialogue between him and the left-leaning South End Press:
“It’s the computer – but it’s not just the computer. It’s the biological revolution – but it’s not just the biological revolution. It’s the shift in energy forms. It’s the new geopolitical balance in the world. It’s the revolt against patriarchy. It’s credit cards plus video games plus stereo plus Walkman units. It’s localism plus globalism. It’s smart typewriters and information workers and electronic banking. It’s the push for decentralization. At one end it’s the space shuttle – at the other the search for individual identity. It’s flex-time and robots and the rising militancy of black and brown and yellow people on the planet. It’s the combined impact of all these forces converging on and shattering our traditional industrial way of life. Above all, it’s the acceleration of change, itself, which marks our moment in history.”
Alvin Toffler, “Previews and Premises”, Pan Books Ltd, 1984 ISBN 0 330 28421 5
Flicking through “The Third Wave” I found a number of prescient passages, but since I hate typing out other people’s text I’ll restrict my quotes to this one, which seems the most pertinent to our situation now:
“The responsibility for change, therefore, lies with us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical. This means fighting off the idea-assassins who rush forward to kill any new suggestion on the grounds of its impracticality, while defending whatever now exists as practical, no matter how absurd, oppressive, or unworkable it may be. It means fighting for freedom of expression – the right of people to voice their ideas, even if heretical.
Above all, it means starting this process of reconstruction now, before the further disintegration of existing political systems sends the forces of tyranny jackbooting through the streets, and makes impossible a peaceful transition to twenty-first century democracy.
If we begin now, we and our children can take part in the exciting reconstitution not merely of our obsolete political structures, but of civilization itself.
Like the generation of the revolutionary dead, we have a destiny to create.”
Alvin Toffler, “The Third Wave”, Pan Books, 1981, pp453, ISBN 0 330 26337 4