“Culture Shock” by Alvin Toffler, 1970
Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book, Culture Shock, sealed his reputation as a futurist. It would be easy to forget that this book was written over forty years ago if it weren’t for the heavily yellowed pages of the paperback copy I borrowed from the library.
To think that so many of Toffler’s forewarnings have come to fruition is intriguing. Fortunately I don’t believe all of his warnings are as negative as he portrayed them. Yes the world has been a very mobile society and the idea of a global citizen is bantered around but there is still a large population in the United States who do not travel far from home. Many of us have moved and have reconnected to a community we have found ourselves living in. Routines can be continued even in a new place.
I think the larger social fallout is that fewer people are available to act as volunteers in hospitals, nursing homes, food kitchens, free health clinics, and in local community recreational areas affecting the social fabric of our lives. But that relates to two-income families who don’t have as much free time available for volunteer work especially during the day. I was reminded of the Blacksburg Electronic Village’s longitudinal study where they connected everyone in the community via a network that would allow everyone to communicate virtually. The study was focused on understanding social capital and community in a networked society. One variable that they found a change in was volunteerism, which increased due to the ease of communicating with the members (Kavanaugh & Patterson, 2001). It took a fraction of the time to send an email to a distribution list than it took in the past to phone or send snail mail and then waiting or following up to gather responses. So there are some positive aspects to our ability to communicate quickly and efficiently.
Toffler points out that technological innovation, opens new affluence, new opportunities, and raises expectations for psychological self-fulfillment (p. 114). Comments we hear about the millennial generation are that they have lived with the new technology that isn’t new to them and they believe they have a right to have a job that is fulfilling and meaningful. Which brings me to chapter 18 where Toffler discusses “Education in the Future”. We are living in Toffler’s future and public school education has not changed much as Toffler and his wife Heidi talk about education in this YouTube video named “Alvin Toppler on Education” at
There are pockets of innovation in education and opportunities for self-paced learning as evidenced by the availability of open online courses offered by several large universities. It’s worth listening a recent TED Talk given by Salman Khan who presents his Khan Academy free instructional videos that he started making to tutor his cousins and now has 2200 free videos available that encourage mastery of the content, must respond correctly to ten questions in a row before being allowed to move on (Khan, 2011). He makes the case that technology can humanize the classroom by flipping the current instructional model from lecture in the classroom with homework outside the classroom to instruction outside the classroom via the videos and teacher-to-student/peer-to-peer interaction in the classroom while the students work on homework. What an awesome idea!
The sheer number of topics covered in the Future Shock book was amazing. We have been in a disposable society mode for many years and consumerism is the method used to keep America believing it’s prosperous. We’ve seen what happens in the U.S. economy when people stop purchasing goods and the economy suffers. Many were accurately depicted and the alarm Toffler sounds of a future shock to the psychological and physically health of the human race is a bit overdone. There are days when I’d prefer to be away from interacting with technology but that is something that speaks to technological literacy of which we don’t learn how to unplug or even believe it’s acceptable or maybe even possible without the fear that the world will pass us by.
Kahn, S. (educator) (20011, March 9). Let’s use video to reinvent education. TEDTalk. [Video podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html
Kavanaugh, A., Carroll, J. M., Rosson, M. B., Zin, T. T., and Reese, D. D. (2005). Community networks: Where offline communities meet online. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(4), article 3. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol10/issue4/kavanaugh.html
Kavanaugh, A., & Patterson, S. J. (2001). The impact of community computer networks on social capital and community involvement. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 496-509.
Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock, (pp. 1-561). New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Toffler, A. (author) (2008, May 30). Alvin Toffler on the new economy 1/6. Big Ideas. [Video podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Raey9DH7wDc&feature=related
Toffler, A. (author), & Toffler, H. (author) (2008, March 14). Alvin Toffler on education. Estrategia Magazine. [Video podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04AhBnLk1-s