Review: Future Shock by Alvin Toffler 1970

The Reviewers state of mind: A cross between nostalgia for the early 70s and a very disturbing sense of dejà vu.

Biases: I loved this book. I read it when I was ten years old.

You can not understand the early 1970s unless you have read this book. It is a foundation book. Clearly a seminal book of its era. Possibly one of the most important books of the early 1970s. The iconic computer print black on blue was as much a symbol of the era as the pale blue McCarthy ’68 button or the Smiley face.

Too much change in too short a period of time was the essence. The thesis was that the rate of change had climbed so dramatically, so quickly in our era that people could no longer adapt to it. People had biological and cultural limits to the ability to adapt. The pressures turn people to a state of irrationality. New technology, new traffic patterns, computers, overpopulation was all at the crux of it.

In today’s context it is societal change, the impact of immigration from alien cultures, globalization, outsourcing, off-shoring. But also the technology: Modern Internet in 1997, Cell phones that take photographs and films and have Internet and GPS. Twitter, YouTube, instant fame.

As Toffler himself said: “With future shock you stay in one place but your own culture changes so rapidly that it has the same disorienting effect as going to another culture” Alvin Toffler: still shocking after all these years New Scientist meets the controversial futurologist” New Scientist, 19 March 1994, pp. 22-25

Why the early 70s though? Was it really that different from the change experience by people born in the 1880s who saw the advent of giant machine age manufacturing plants, flight, automobiles, radio, television and rockets? Toffler felt that we were at the fault line of a change from an industrial to a super-industrial society. Maybe we have reached that fault line again which is why Toffler is more relevant than ever. It is about the acceleration in change.

Toffler went out and interviewed people to illuminate and understand this collision with the future and how people found ways to adapt. He was a journalist and not a social scientist so he looked at real experiences as sopposed to social science statistics. I can’t possibly stress how important and relevant this book is to understand what is happening in our society topday. Toffler’s work is original American genius.

Very Highly Recommended

A seminal work of popular social science.

See also the 1972 short educational film of the same title narrated by Orson Wells.

See also the song of the same name by Herbie Hancock.


Toffler A.

Future shock.

New York: Random House, 1970. 505 p


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