Future Shock by Alvin Toffler was published 40 years ago. I must have read it around the time I turned 10. As a kid my parents fed me a steady diet of books that were more than I was ready for at the time, but I gobbled them down anyway. I vaguely recall Future Shock being one of them.
A month ago I decided to read it again. Ironically, it’s not available on the Kindle so I had to buy (and lug around) a paperback copy of it. The one I have appears to be on it’s 62nd printing according to the title page (that’s a lot of books.) I read it over the course of a few days–it’s long as has some sections that require slower reading to make sure you get the nuance.
I love to read “old science fiction”–stuff written in the 1950’s–1980’s about the time frame from 2010–2040. It hadn’t occurred to me that “old futurism” would be equally interesting, satisfying, and enlightening. Future Shock did not disappoint me–it was stunningly interesting, even 40 years later.
Like old science fiction, Toffler got some things exactly right and others completely wrong. Two of the broad themes that were right on target were the “super industrial society” (his phrase for the information age) and what I started calling “mass disposability” as a proxy for the notion of the consumeration of everything. I was completely fascinated by both of these (which comprised about a third of the book), especially with his prediction that, as humans, we wouldn’t know how to deal with the changes that were coming and they’d create meaningful societal disruptions.
There’s plenty of hippy dippy early 1970’s in here (separation of birth mothers from parents, communes as next generation societies, and temporary marriages) that appeared for a little while before vanishing. But much of the societal shifts Toffler predicts either materialized in some form or evolved into something more sustainable.
The last section of the book is titled “Strategies for Survival.” When I read it, I tried to imagine being 45 years old in 1970 and projecting out to 2010. For some reason, I got a little freaked out by this as I began imagining how different today’s world is for someone who is 85 today. Then, I lined this notion up next to the world of a 5 year old today (for example, my niece) and tried to imagine what her world would be like in 80 years. I couldn’t.
If you are looking for something chewy to read over the holidays that will make you think, this is for you.
Reprinted from Feld Thoughts
Brad Feld is a managing director at Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. He invests in software and Internet companies around the U.S., runs marathons, and reads a lot. Follow him at twitter.com/bfeld.