In 1970, Alvin Toffler, an American writer, futurist and businessman, known for his works discussing modern technologies, published a book titled Future Shock. He wrote the book together with his spouse Adelaide Farrell. His definition of future shock in its shortest version is a “personal perception of too much change in too short a period of time”. The book was an international bestseller and was widely translated.
Toffler argued that society in 1970 was undergoing an enormous structural change from an industrial society to a super industrial society. He argued that the change would overwhelm people and leave them disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation”. Such rapid change, he argued, shocks and therefore causes fear which leads to overall social distress and potential calamity.
Wikipedia summarizes quite well Toffler’s description of the features of a postindustrial 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– The design of goods becomes outdated quickly.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 People have to change professions because professions quickly become outdated.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 The knowledge of an engineer becomes outdated in ten years.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 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.
No one in 1970 fully believed how accurate Toffler’s predictions might become. Not only have they come true, one can now certainly add many, many items to his list. For example, computer software and hardware change and update regularly. We always seem to have to learn something new every day. We are bombarded by current events spread out over voluminous digital news casts and social media which are overwhelming. News about Covid spreads rapidly expanding fears about personally contracting the illness or spreading it among our loved ones. Individuals now can use social media to personal advantage and to evoke social unrest.
Rapid change was already happening when Covid hit. It instigated even more rapid change some of which is very good and some of which is frightening. The question all of us need to answer at this stage in human development should be: how can we alleviate the fear about how rapid change might damage us? And how can we channel such change effectively for the common good?
In my experience in the legal profession, at times, change has often been very slow in coming. Also, in my experience in the legal profession, lawyers have selflessly and voluntarily devoted their time to come together in various groups and associations. Through the work of their various associations, they raise issues, draw together experts from other professions and individuals from the various social and political power structures to effect positive change. To name all of the associations which are doing this sort of work would expand this blog to the point where you might stop reading. No doubt, I would also miss and perhaps then offend by omission one of the many good associations.
What these Associations have already demonstrated in numerous areas quite effectively is that, if you can draw good people together to examine these demanding questions carefully, positive change will take place in a controlled and constructive manner. Often, a groundswell of common concerns grows within the grassroots membership of these Associations. If these concerns are heeded, appropriately examined and directed, a consensus toward a solution eventually develops. This takes time, effort and no doubt the involvement of every person affected by the concerns.
In other words, for every concern about rapid change, we can believe that there is a solution. There are so many concerns facing us: Covid, family breakdown, job loss, the environment, racism, (any other form of discrimination), the potential failure of our political institutions – to name just a few.
The solution only comes when we band together and work together to find it. In this day and age, there is no room for politics, there is no room for trying to take personal advantage of others, there is no room for socially divisive actions.
There is a demanding and overwhelming need for us all to come together and deal with each of these many areas of social concern in a respectful and loving manner. Unless we do, “future shock” may well destroy the fabric of our society. It is my firm belief that this will not happen as we have shown historically as humans that we can overcome.
So, take a concern. Start a groundswell. Make it respectful, make it loving. Make positive change.
Tom Dart, Partner