On Thursday in Washington, several dozen futurists, military strategists, investors and journalists gathered to honor the inventors of futurism, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, and celebrate the 40th anniversary of Future Shock, first published in 1970. Future Shock is easily one of the most influential books of all time, shaping a generation on the verge of post-industrialism and unclear about its shifting economic, social, and moral foundations. Former Korean president Kim Dae-jung credits Future Shock with convincing his country to undertake new economic strategies to join the Third Wave of countries.
Future Shock hasn’t had to adapt to the times. It remains one of the most prescient guides to today and tomorrow. Quite a few things Alvin Toffler got right in 1970 which remain spot on today are: the transience of our relationships with each other and with things, the prediction that people would become as comfortable with virtual and interactive environments as with real life, the genesis of cyborgs and artificial intelligence, the over-stimulation of children, the rise of ad-hocery (a term he coined) in business operations and modular/horizontal rather than vertical corporate structures, and the growing prominence of super-empowered individuals.
But Future Shock was much more than a laundry list of predictions. Toffler demonstrated an imaginative but grounded sense of what the possibilities for these technologies were and the impact they would have on society. To this day, few futurists seriously do this. Hence Hybrid Reality.
Rather than long-winded speeches, the Future Shock anniversary conference, organized by the consulting firm Toffler Associates, featured a crowd-sourcing of perspectives from a wide range of disciplines. Participants grappled with the difference between invention and innovation, how to provide moral validation for the work of scientists, the rise of virtual identities, the fragmentation of politics, and the challenges of network effects in our economy.
Whatever the issue, the question was never: How do you stop it? But rather, “How do you prepare? Reading Future Shock is still one of the best ways to prepare for the future.
Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.