Changing to Future Shock

Another Year Gone Already. It sure seems to have gone by in a hurry. In Future Shock, Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book about the future, he thought people might want to stand out as different by wearing weird clothes and oddly colored hair. Check. He thought the pace of change would accelerate. Check!

But what really caught my eye when I read the book way back in the 70s is that time seems to go by faster the older you get. The theory: a year is a long time to a 10-year-old, since a year is a tenth of her life. But a year is a mere 2 percent of a 50-year-old’s life, and that’s just a flash by comparison. That intrigued me as a youngster when I read the book — that different people could perceive the same events in different ways. These days, it seems hard to find two people who perceive the same events in the same way….

What’s the Shock?

Click cover to see on Amazon *

Toffler’s main concern — the “future shock” — was that society would reach a point of “information overload,” where we would be bombarded by so much information that we’d not be able to make any decisions at all. Not many of you would disagree that’s here! Here’s what I think is interesting about that idea: in the past, we relied a lot on gatekeepers to decide what information to pass on to us, like TV networks, local newspapers, and large-circulation magazines. So as the information glut gets bigger and bigger, we rely on those gatekeepers more and more, right? Well, so much for that theory: they’re all in decline.

So what has replaced those communications behemoths? Well, other communications behemoths, to be sure, but also a lot more smaller voices: niche commentators and analysts who can help put things in perspective in different ways.

Yet at the same time, we’re freed from corporate overseers who demand that we don’t touch sacred cows — like their commercial sponsors. I love that True is almost entirely funded by its readers; I don’t have to shy away from the interests of any one giant funding agent. I can point out what’s crazy in any economic sector, any government agency, any information behemoth, any church, any political party.

Might I anger some of you? Certainly, but none of you have a “controlling interest” that can shut my voice down because you disagree with my skewering a sacred cow. And that’s very liberating.

I appreciate that you’ve chosen This is True as one of the filters through which you view the world, to help you sort through the information overload so that you’re not bombarded by so much noise that you can’t make any decision at all. And I think overall, that’s healthy: it’s no longer the case that everything is filtered out of New York or other “information capitol.” We can still choose them as part of our mix, but we can add other voices as part of the checks and balances on what we’re being told.

Yet our lack of having to kowtow to corporate interests is also a vulnerability: we have to find other funding to keep going. I am so grateful that enough of you have found True worthy of your support; you truly do keep it going. Thanks!

Where I Wrote This

On the way home.
On the way home. The car’s thermometer noted it was 6 degrees outside, or -14C.

I Did My Story Writing Yesterday at a friend’s house in Boulder. We popped over to visit Kit’s parents for the holidays, and stayed with Amy Gahran, a fellow writer * I met shortly after moving to Colorado. She told me about her huge new writing project, which incidentally is merely a multi-year project rather than a lifelong project thanks to the technology at her disposal.

It’s still too early to reveal what it is, but it could be groundbreaking — Amy is another independent voice who has the guts to explore a part of life that I don’t think any corporate-funded media outlet would delve into. Heck: I’m pretty darned open-minded, and it shakes my worldview a little! But that’s why we need diverse voices out here; it’s healthy to disintermediate …the media!

Today, meanwhile, we’re on our way back — driving through the mountains …during a snow storm. I’m sitting in the passenger seat with my laptop as Kit heads us home. So I’m also grateful for much more reliable cars and tires than we had in the 60s and 70s, that communications advances means snowplows are routed to where they’re needed the most, and that we are getting past the assumption that women can’t do things like drive well! All are awfully positive changes in the world.

As we drove, I was able to use my smartphone to look up what year Future Shock was published. And I’m able to do my work on a computer that’s ever-more-capable, yet smaller and lighter, than the previous model.

And I’m grateful for that, too: my job is flexible enough that I can do it on the road. It makes up for those unrelenting weekly deadlines! I did my Honorary Unsubscribe research before we hit the road (there was good, fast Internet at Amy’s), so I could write the H.U., and these year-end thoughts, on the go.

Always On?

Some might consider this a negative of societal change driven by technology. “Poor guy can’t get away!” But I like it. I love my job, rather than resent it, so I can get away and keep up with it. So why not get away frequently: business trips or social, just grab the laptop and go!

But the transition, the change, as Toffler put it, can be uncomfortable. We’ve seen it: so many jobs lost. So much upheaval. Those strange looking people want to get married, fer gawd’s sake! Martha! Cover the children’s eyes! The one with blue hair is kissing the one with green hair! Eeek!

But they’re forgetting the power of change: we can even change careers. Even though I enjoyed it, I dumped out of a great career as a “Member of the Technical Staff” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to become a social commentary guy, frivolously using “weird news” as the conduit to explore the human condition.

My making such a huge change didn’t impact your life …unless you wanted it to by becoming one of my readers. The rest of the world ignored me, as is proper: they had other information competing for their attention.

Still, tech-driven change allowed me to make that choice for myself, and that’s a good thing. All I had to do was learn some new skills, which meant buying some books and seeking out a couple of teachers to enable my career change. And as I recall, Toffler predicted that, too: that younger people would embrace change, and adapt to it, and it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Maybe that’s why I was OK with changing careers myself: because I read Toffler’s book back in the 70s I’ve had plenty of time to watch the changes unfold, rather than be surprised by them.

An awful lot of you have lived through the same changes, and you probably had a completely different experience. It’s hard to just “let go” and not worry about it, but there’s one easy place to start: don’t worry about changes in others; you can ignore them, or if it’s advantageous, embrace them, such as your choice to become a reader when I changed careers. The gal I married doesn’t have blue hair, but there’s no reason to worry if she did: I’d be the one that had to look at it!

So here’s to the new year, and whatever changes it may bring.

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17 Comments on “Changing to Future Shock

  1. I remember reading Future Shock when I was in high school (grade 10 I think — about 1977 or so). I didn’t finish it though — I thought Toffler was a boring old fart! 😛 I went on to get a degree in computer science and still love to code. Now if I could only figure out how to use that damned iPhone….

  2. I graduated with a degree in Computer & Management Science in 1974. I went to work in the Management Advisory Services department of a national accounting firm doing programming on what were then known as minicomputers. One of the first things I was taught was that you do not force users to change what they are doing unless it is absolutely necessary. That only makes sense! Yet Microsoft has violated that rule on every release of windows since 3.11 became Win 95. There is good change & change for the sake of change.

  3. I live the Future Shock. I get the changing careers and lifestyles. My wife and I sold our house, bought a RV, and took to the road eleven years ago. The computer training business my wife started in 1983 was sold in ’96. We are vagabonds now. We make our living with our websites and teaching technology for travelers. Technology allows us to get away and stay connected. I look forward to 2015 and all the accelerating changes it will bring. We are Geeks On Tour.

    Happy New Year!

  4. After a brief stint in the Air Force and experiencing the top down decision process, decided to be my own boss (I’m a veterinarian). I don’t please everyone but I generally please myself. It’s resulted in a long enjoyable career (I’m 72) and sill working (semi-retired). The freedom to make the choices one believes in delightful. I always wonder at the decision I made at the ripe old age of 22 and how it worked out so well.

    Congrats on your choice. I enjoy your news every week.

  5. Toffler was correct about the “bombarded with too much information” part, but wrong about the effect of that change. No one can absorb all the information being thrown at the average person, so the average person simply ignores most of it. Unfortunately, the portion that gets ignored is the portion that disagrees with the person’s existing point of view, resulting in rampant confirmation-bias.

  6. I love how technology allows us to hear niche voices. I have a Kindle full of books that probably wouldn’t have the mass-market appeal to interest old-school publishers (like zombie superhero books).

    I like how I can look at a news story from a conservative view, a liberal view and an international view with just a few clicks. What a difference the point of view makes! By looking at all of these voices, I find it easier to clarify what I think about something.

    As somebody that shows the best, the worst, and the weirdest of humanity, This is True is a voice I cherish. I’ve had issues that have left me heartbroken and uplifted with consecutive stories. I often go for a walk afterwards to let my mind dig into some of the ideas it has. Thank you (and that includes all those who help you) for putting such passion into your work.

    There are Zombie Superhero books?! Awesome! As far as “look[ing] at a news story from a conservative view, a liberal view and an international view with just a few clicks,” I just wonder how many do that, and how many only look at what reinforces their own biases. -rc

  7. I got spoiled but did not know it when I got stationed at Edwards AFB when I was 18. I had wanted to come here ever since I was 9 years old. I met my wife here and then got out and moved to Orange Co., CA where I got married, had my two kids and then moved to Boron, CA Back to the land of Eddie’s airplane patch. I started working here again and now have 36 years of tenure so far. I keep my info-overload down to a minimum. 3 free tv stations, dialup internet and 4 Netflix in the mail. At work I have the latest and greatest computing systems that I have to use. I have had three basic jobs but a gaggle of different shops in which I have worked. Every shop to which I have been sent has been brought back up to standards of efficiency exceeding what is required. I have no desire to see how far up I can go or how fast or far until I burn out. I just want to do my little bit of a job to the best I am happy with. 1443 days will be my last day and then I can go to the museum in Dayton, OH as the last item on my bucket list.

    Now that’s a plan! -rc

  8. Amen to all your points on Future Shock, a book which impressed me substantially. And I am pleased to confirm that, amongst other reasons, I value This Is True as another heterodox stream into my worldview. You are not part of the media establishment, and the more valuable because of that. I may not agree with everything you say (though I do with most), but you make your points clearly and dispassionately, and with evidence presented. Would that others, of whatever political persuasion, did the same.

    Thanks for a regular bright point in my life.

  9. Is there somewhere on Amy Grant’s page or blog where I can sign up for automatic notice when she publishes?

    I know Amy (Gahran) is not publishing much on her blog as she’s researching her project. I don’t see an email signup either, so I suppose your only option is RSS, if you’re familiar with that and know how to use it. -rc

  10. As I was reading the part about the feeling of the relativity of time, I was reminded of a short story I read in High School called My Pretty Pony, wherein an old man explains to his young grandson how times feels like it moves differently, depending on how old you are. When I looked up the exact reference, I was surprised to find that it was written by Stephen King!

    Not to be confused with My Little Pony! Since King wrote it quite a bit later, I have to wonder if this was influenced by Future Shock or if the idea is even older than Toffler. I’d guess the latter…. -rc

  11. Excellent message.

    I’d love it if there were information gatekeepers like we had in the past, but the American media has more than proven they are not trustworthy and reliable gatekeepers. The citizens have no choice but to search out alternate sources of information if they want to get a factual, accurate account (or as close to a factual, accurate account as possible).

  12. Zombie superhero — someone who’s been reanimated after death and performs superhuman feats for mankind? I think that genre started getting popular around 2000 years ago.

    Heh! -rc

  13. That was a terrific column. I’ve enjoyed the free edition for years but just upgraded as a result of it. I hadn’t thought about This is True in terms of free speech without the control of the advertisers, but you’re correct and it’s great. It’s what I like about The Week, too.

    So hang in there. You have one of the best jobs in the world!

    Yes, I certainly do! (And as it happens, I subscribe to, and read, The Week, too.) -rc

  14. On the “time goes faster as you age” thing… I read an interesting take on that not long ago. It seems that time feels slower as we experience new things, and faster when we’re repeating the familiar.

    That feels right.

    Interesting thought! -rc

  15. As always, very insightful thoughts. The part about information gatekeeping is so very true. But, as I was taught back in Jr. High, 50ish years ago, getting an unbiased view of the news takes effort. This usually requires reading/watching several different sources, and then looking into the sources they used where possible. Unfortunately, most folks are not going to put that much effort into it.

    That said, one of the main points I take away from your writing is that the best thing most people can do is to mind their own lives (and maybe, if they are lucky, the lives of a very few people close to them), and let other people mind their own lives. It has seemed to me that a lot of the issues that have been problems in my lifetime are due to some people trying to run the lives of a large group of people. That never works out well.

    Good takeaway. -rc


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