Alvin Toffler’s book entitled Future Shock was published in 1970 and accurately described several major societal and cultural transformations that were taking place during this time. Several of these include the “death of permanence” and the rapid acceleration of change that is and has occurred as new technology creates the ability to generate newer technology even more rapidly thereby increasing the transient nature of society and accelerating the rate of change. Toffler describes the term “transience” as “providing a long-missing link between sociological theories of change and the psychology of individual human beings.”
Yet , I fail to see that his explanation of transience is complete or an accurate description of many individuals. This temporariness as he states, results in a mood of impermanence, that infiltrates not only our interaction with the physical and material world but with those with whom we choose to have relationships with. It seems that his analysis is too simplistic as the impact of transformation is still being studied in an attempt to develop a satisfactory model for how it influences the human psyche.
According to a study by Russ (2009) researchers are still attempting to develop a typology that will lead to a satisfactory model of how mankind perceives challenges associated with change. In Russ’s article, the particular typology that the study is attempting to develop addresses the challenges faced by organizational transformations including mergers, downsizing, and technical innovations. The researcher states that the past has revealed that even though organizations are investing tremendous resources in developing and implementing changes most are only marginally successful and often times are literally sabotaged by the resentment that these frequently tremendous upheavals instill in the employees who are impacted. The past model for organizational change has taken a top-down approach that often fails to take into consideration the effects upon the mid and lower level employees who are left with little voice or influence in determining the course of transformation. There is obviously still a need for further psychological and sociological research on the cultural impact of rapid technological innovation and change.
I would, however, agree that Toffler’s description of a “disposable” world is accurate. Most of us think nothing about throwing away non-biodegradable plastics including saran wrap, diapers, plastic grocery bags, and the tons of empty bottles of supposedly purified water. Electronics are certainly produced with a degree of planned obsolescence. I was reflecting upon the oldest, yet still functional electronics or appliances that my family has and still uses. Two immediately came to mind; my Mother’s 1950s SunBeam MixMaster, a workhorse of a mixer that functions as well today as it did the day she bought it, without any repairs other than replacing lost or damaged beaters and my Father’s Craftsman table saw which my brother still uses in renovating his home. I do not know of any appliance that I bought in my early adulthood that is still in use today.
Another accurate description of change taking place in the early 70s was the practice of transferring upwardly mobile executives as they advanced their career. This begins my personal exposition….I was born in 1964 to a Father who was an executive with Ford Motor Company. By the age of 6 (1970) when Toffler published his book I had lived in three different states; by the age of 18 I had lived in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Indiana. Toffler’s account of the result of this type of upheaval is the generation of a self-contained, reserved individual who does not seek to maintain or establish new relationships due to the knowledge that at any time another move might take place. My personal experience has not been similar, just as any generalization will fail for certain individuals. For me, it has created a desire to maintain those relationships that I deem to be important no matter the distance or separation. I have lost track of many dear friends over the years who have lived in or near the same area for the majority of their lives and hard as I might have tried to stay in contact as I moved on, the effort was not reciprocated. Indeed, it appears to me that individuals who choose to stay in one location all of their lives often lose the ability to “see beyond their own community” to the larger world beyond their backyard. There are definitely pros and cons to both lifestyles and my assessment is also a generalization that will fail with certain individuals. As a child of parents who moved frequently it was not my choice, I learned to adapt and make new friends and be accepting of other cultures and lifestyles. I like to think that it has created an empathetic and accepting aspect to my personality but I know that it is also largely due to the loving-kindness of two wonderful parents who always placed their children first no matter what state we called home!
I have not yet finished all of Toffler’s book due to the many demands placed upon us with these two week separation of classes, but so far I have found it an interesting and insightful view of certain aspects of our culture.
“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.” Charles Dickens
Russ, T. (2009). Developing a typology of perceived communication challenges experienced by frontline employees during organizational change. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 10(1), 1-8.