The Intellectual Life of Alvin Toffler

Introduction

People have been dreaming of looking into the future since times immemorial. Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, made an attempt to predict the future development of mankind after thorough analysis of the recent technological changes and their impact on human consciousness. Toffler would figure in history as a person who has forecasted the 21-st century changes and society shifts by 1970.

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He evaluated the changes taking place in society and scientific knowledge critically and predicted their impact on future generations. He shed light upon the changes occurring in the spheres of information exchange and consumption. However, his theories enjoy wide popularity among present day researchers as well. Though the change and future shock are the central themes of most Toffler’s works, systematizing the main preconditions and translating them into schemes and patterns, the futurist denies the chaotic character of reformations and expresses his hope for the better tomorrow.

Alvin Toffler

Alvin Toffler is an American writer whose works are focused on possible perspectives of the development of the society in the 21-st century and attempts to predict the future. He was born in 1928 and having begun his writing career, he chose digital revolution, communication revolution, corporate revolution and technological revolution as the main concepts of his theories. He discussed the technological singularity and information revolution in an era which he defines as information age. Toffler supposes that there would be information overload, and there were a lot of followers of his study. Putting emphasis upon the education sector he criticizes the modern trends of overloading children with information. He considers this modern form of equipping children with knowledge to be totally outdated.

Toffler also touches upon the topic of revolution and classifies it into three major categories; the first wave, the second wave and the third wave. Gupta (2005) summarized this classification as follows:

Classifying agricultural phase as the First Wave, industrial phase as the Second Wave, he considers exploding change – with personal lives being torn apart, the existing social order crumbling, and a fantastic new way of life emerging on the horizon, as the third Wave, with new life styles, new values and technologies, new modes of communication, new ideas and concepts emerging all around (p. 53)

The three waves represent the stages at which revolution has taken place; from agrarian revolution which replaced the hunters and gatherers, industrial revolution and the modern Post industrial or information age revolution respectively. He wrote this in 1970-s but being interpreted today convey new shades of meaning as information plays an important role in life of an average citizen nowadays, especially with the growing popularity of computer technologies.

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Theories of Alvin Toffler

Alvin Toffler touched upon various fields but all his theories were aimed at predicting the future of the humanity. For example, his works concerning adverse effects of information overload, and the technological revolution are being realized today (Barabba & Zaltman, 1991). In his book Future Shock, he predicts disorientation and lack of proper decision making mechanisms. This emanates from information overload caused by the information age. The futurist offers possible solutions of the problem and the effective management mechanisms.

Revolutions

The world’s revolutions can be categorized into three main groups; the first revolution, the second revolution and the third revolution (Reiser & Sciabarra, 1999). Analysis of these revolutions is helpful for understanding the processes through which the world was shaped into its contemporary form and possible changes which may occur in future. These teachings are related to various sectors, military, education, organizational management and the technological revolution spheres are among them. Significant changes took place in each of these sectors, while the transformation of management mechanisms could have either positive or negative consequences.

Toffler offered possible measures for handling the changes and preventing the chaos in the society and disorientation in the human consciousness. For example, people in the technological sectors were advised to accept the reality as it is in order to handle this area carefully minimizing the devastating effects of abrupt changes. Since the third revolution, managers were provided with an opportunity to implement new techniques for gaining a competitive advantage and attracting customers. In a military sector, especially with the revolution of terrorism, military personnel have to get ready for any eventuality (Kerridge, 2006).

The first wave represents the first form of revolution and little was done at this period. The period of the first wave was when the agrarian revolution wiped out hunters and gatherers. The agriculture revolution took place between the 16th century and 17th century; to be more precise, between 1750 and 1850 years. It started in England where many citizens turned to the land as a source of their income. The Agrarian revolution resulted in mass production which led to improving the living conditions. The Agrarian revolution or Agriculture revolution can be classified into a number of categories:

The Neolithic revolution was the first of the Agricultural revolutions and became the basis of human civilization some 10000 years ago. The Muslim agricultural revolution led to increased industrialization in the 10th century and there were many changes in the Islamic Golden age. The third agricultural revolution is known as the British Agricultural revolution, it took place in the 18th century. It resulted in growth of the urban centers and was the precondition of Industrial revolution. The fourth revolution was the Scottish Agricultural revolution which led to what is known as lowland revolution. This paved way to what is commonly referred to as the Green revolution which occurred after the World War II in mid 20th century.

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The first wave was characterized by many changes in all sectors especially the British revolution which wiped out the hunters and gatherers. This revolution concurred with the time when the plow was invented and became a major instrument of farming (Reiser & Sciabarra, 1999). The plow helped to improve the level of production from low to high while food supply was sufficient. The social structure was changed with the formation of feudal village as a form of socialization. Feudal villages were found everywhere since people were not going to the forest to gather food; rather, food was available by farming (Reiser, & Sciabarra, 1999).

After the Agrarian revolution maize, beans, rice and yams were produced in quantity as various countries intensified production. For example, Asia specialized in rice and yams while in South America preference was given to maize and beans (Henderson, 2008). Another significant sign of the agricultural revolution was the wealth and capital accumulation where people could exchange goods for goods. For example, people could exchange livestock and other animals for food from the farms, while as well, people made a point to store what they accumulated for generations to come (Henderson, 2008).

It was after this revolution that the first cities emerged and people could accumulate wealth and use it to make their lives better. Cities outnumbered agricultural settlements and as wealth and capital was being accumulated, people were aimed at improving their living conditions by building better housing facilities.

The second wave is also referred to as the era of industrialization when many industries arose after accumulation of wealth. It should be noted that the first wave facilitated the second wave since after formation of feudal villages and socialization, people could build sectors which were helpful for accumulating more wealth. This is industrialization in which there was formation of industries for producing more goods (Reiser & Sciabarra, 1999). The second wave was the liberal individualism period in which there was freedom of virtually anything for improving one’s life. There were recorded physic material needs through abundance of mass production (Reiser & Sciabarra, 1999).

This era was remarkable for emergence of factories and printing. The factories were introduced to process the materials being developed and majorly from the farming and livestock rearing. The factories were characterized by increasing production. Emergence of printing may be explained by increased demand of literature and printed sources as many people were interested in the recent events of reformation of industry. Thus the printing press as one of the industry had relevance due to enhanced literacy. Nation-State refers to the separation of the concepts of Nation and State, where Nation majors on nationhood and patriotism, while state looks at sovereignty (Reiser, & Sciabarra, 1999).

The second wave of revolution took place between 1600’s and 1900’s. This means that this revolution was similar to the Agrarian revolution or the first wave of revolution presupposing formation of social groupings and the second wave of revolution marked a major shift from dependence on agriculture to industries which up to today defines the world’s development (Henderson, 2008). In most countries this revolution is the latest while the others have gone ahead to adopt the third wave of revolution.

This revolution had a basis with the drilling of oil in Greek island as early as 400BC, the availability of money for exchange, networking of trade routes between European and Asian nations, and the coming up of Metropolises in Asia and South America (Henderson, 2008). There was also division and specialization of labor during this revolution as people put emphasis on what they were best equipped in and the emergence of schools. The revolution was related to the development of the oil industry as well as exploration of fuels and gases in various regions.

The third wave is the most modern wave and is mostly referred to as the Internet age or the Information age. The third wave of revolution as defined by Alvin Toffler was helpful for satisfying the cognitive needs providing people with opportunities to get more information, knowledge and experience. In early 1970-s Alvin Toffler prophesied the revolution, Linux and Bill Gates’ researches were forecasted long before they took place (Reiser & Sciabarra, 1999).

The internet revolution had a significant impact on people’s behavioral characteristics. Biotechnology achieved remarkable success at this period of time resulting in improved provision of medical care services as well as raising new questions such as cloning, for example. Non-technology and the internet played a significant role in this revolution, while the importance of internet technologies should be emphasized due to liberalization the methods of retrieving, processing and sending information. The first revolution was characterized by formation of feudal villages but in this revolution, there are totally new forms of social structures (Reiser & Sciabarra, 1999).

This is the most liberal revolution and many people emphasizing its significance ignored the earlier revolutions. For example, space aircrafts have revolutionized the whole system of transportation while human cloning defied the biblical form of humans’ origin. For this reason, prophesying this revolution Alvin criticized its consequences admitting that the revolution would bring more evil than good. However, no one can deny that this modern revolution simplified people’s lives. It became deeply embedded in people’s mind that it is not easy to erase it.

Cloning researches enjoy wide popularity nowadays and would help human beings to see themselves from a new perspective and will be similar to making copies of people, a scenario that can lead to moral degradation and breach of ethical obligations to our creator. Privacy has been invaded; for example in the usage of the Internet and the innovative social networking methods such as Facebook, for example. Security has been breached and this is manifested with the increased number of terrorist attacks and other forms of violence. What Alvin Toffler predicted is a similar experience existing today, for example, total disregard of means of production and implementation of innovative technologies while most of them cannot be comprehended but still being practiced. People try to develop similar creatures which could perform the same functions as the human beings; the robots (Maria & Salgueiro, 2005).

Revolutionalize Organizational Management

Discussing the concept of changes, special attention should be paid to organizational sector where various management issues have come into sharp focus due to evolution of issues. Toffler considers organizational to give a new look and dimensions which were not used during the industrialization stage or the second wave of revolution. The third wave redefined the ways in which people manage things and operate at societal, organizational and personal levels (Middleton, 2006). He continues that the result of the revolution is in mass production, emphasizing the importance of de-massification and giving preference to individual approach to every customer.

With the third wave revolution, there have been enhanced levels in economics and warfare (Toffler & Alvin , 1998). Knowledge of modern management mechanisms has become an intangible asset and many organizations were looking for employees having experience of implementation of innovative trends in management. This has also been seen in the CT sector while computerization of every office was required for meeting the growing market demands. Management effectiveness might be enhanced on the condition of implementation of contemporary technologies and integrated media.

Security and Warfare

Perhaps, this is the most discussed area as being affected by the revolutionalization and the adoption of new methods of communication and operations. The awareness is being brought up by the need to combat insecurity in the world as issues like terrorism are becoming a world threat. The CT and the information age have helped ease penetration of most protected areas and survey any prone area for an attack. It is therefore a real concern that the revolution and the coming of the third wave of revolution has brought in more mess than good in regard to insecurity (Toffler & Alvin, 1998).

In regard to warfare, the cold war between the US and Soviet Union is having the modern technology being used to fight one another. The terrorism attack on the Twin towers in United States 9/11 is an indication of the kind of damage the revolution can cause. However, modern technology has as well been used to combat this terrorism with new surveillance weapons being used to keep attackers at bay or frustrate their efforts to cause violence.

Third Wave and the Environment

Toffler was also concerned with the effect of the second and third wave revolution on environment. The environment has been noted to have been degraded out of the adoption and use of the modern ways of production and management. When the environment is affected, mankind is seen to be affected as well and thus there is high need to care for what can benefit us.

For example, the second revolution as discussed by Toffler was marked by industrialization and this means emission of poisonous gases in the air. This implies that the air is polluted and if this is not controlled, it can have adverse effects on mankind as well. There is what is referred to Earth-day or the ecological awareness which are being done so as to enhance education on all world nations to protect the environment (Toffler & Alvin, 1998). He adds that the military operations are frustrating the war to the conservation of environment since the weapons being used like nuclear explosions are polluting the air.

Education

Toffler does not see any comparison between educations which was practiced in early days to the type of education being practiced in modern days. According to him, “these institutions are suffering from some gut-deep diseases.” He adds that it seems the disease is really obsolete and is outdated in nature and as well represent the old ages (New York Magazine, 1972). This is being seen even today where even university education has changed completely with the graduates gaining little from the formal education, with skills which cannot translate to productive applications.

Proliferation of Information

Proliferation of information or what Alvin called information overload is very evident in his argument. He says that as a futurist, he envisaged a world which will experience a future shock. This is seen even in management and how the information is causing people not to concentrate on one thing. Management has embraced totally new methods which are being viewed as radical. As it was cited in Halle & Goldberg (2006) Toffler noted that ““Knowledge is change… and accelerating knowledge-acquisition, fueling the great engine of technology, means accelerating change” (p. 34)

The changes do not at all reflect positive adoption and this has ended in many employees being lazy and non-productive (Qureshi, 2005).

Alvin had predicted break-downs in industries due to information overload and proliferation of technology. In 172, he had prepared a report for an American telephone and Telegraph company proposing some strategies to combat this (Toffler & Alvin, 1985). In 170, Eastman Kodak had to deal with the emergence of many technologies which had increased the level of competition. There was increase in the price of silver, which is a major raw material for production of films and this shock was a continuation of some erosion in market share. Such is an example of the adverse effects of embracing the new technologies to the companies (Barabba & Zaltman, 1991).

Conclusion

While we embrace changes in the world, it is always good to evaluate the changes critically and take advantages from them if it is possible. Otherwise, the changes we adopt can in effect turn against us and attempt to destroy. An example is in the production of high level weapons of mass destructions commonly referred to as WMDs. These weapons are developed by human beings but at the same time people suffer from this great invention. Technology of such nature ought to be measured, though many argue that they have brought more good than mess. Terrorists used the technology to bring down two American towers in 9/11 terrorist attack, this is a clear evidence and a strong argument supporting the statement that the innovative technologies may have devastating effects.

One man is being celebrated up to today for his teachings on three revolutions, their outcome and possible adverse effects. This man is Alvin Toffler whose theories and works have proven to be relevant to the recent events in civilized world. Toffler discussed three major revolutions defining them as the first, second and third waves. The third wave is the one which is mostly discussed due to its significance and magnified adverse effects. However, it is senseless to concentrate on devastating effects of technological progress denying its positive impact on humans’ lives. People may take advantages of technologies only after their critical analysis and evaluation (Toffler, 1985).

References

Barabba, P. & Zaltman, G. (1991). Hearing the voice of the market: Competitive advantage through creative use of market information. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Gupta, V.S. (2005). International communication: Contemporary issues and trends in global information revolution. New Dehli: Concept Publishing Company.

Halle, B. & Goldberg, L. (2006). The business rule revolution: Running business the right way. Silicon Valley, CA: Happy About Publishing.

Henderson, C. (2008). The 21st century environmental revolution: A comprehensive strategy for conservation, global warming, and the environment. Waves of the Future Series.

Kerridge, E. (2006). The agricultural revolution. Routledge Publishers.

Maria, A & Salgueiro, S. (2005). I am the other: Literary negotiations of human cloning. Praeger Publishers.

Middleton, J. (2006). Gurus on e-business: A guide to the word’s thought-leaders in e-business. Thorogood Publishing ltd.

Qureshi M.U (2005). Management principle and practice. New Delhi: ANMOL Publications PVT ltd.

Reiser, M. & Sciabarra, C. (1999). Feminist interpretation of Ayn Rand. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania States University.

Toffler A. (1985). The adaptive corporation. Michigan, MI: McGraw-Hill.

Toffler, H. & A. (1998, June-July). Preparing for conell. The Futurist, 26 – 29.

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