It’s surprising when books written about the future are still relevant decades later, and non fiction ones especially. In my experience the speculative tends to be dystopian, novels that seem relevant because human flaws are fairly consistent and easy to extrapolate from – Hi there 1984, Handmaid’s Tale, and Brave New World; I really wish we weren’t still power-hungry, misogynistic, and ready to amuse ourselves to death, but y’all weren’t wrong. It is much harder to predict where we’ll go right, because hell, then success would be a formula.
Alvin Toffler’s book splits the difference, though non-fiction it neither suggests we are headed for disaster or utopia, but somewhere in the middle depending on how we adapt. The book argues that the changes we are experiencing are less significant than the rate at which we are experiencing them, that we have less time to adapt with each successive generation, and it is the constant unfamiliarity rather than any one innovation which is responsible for societal unrest. That, much as one can experience instability when traveling abroad and being fundamentally uncertain about how to move through society, one can have a cultural shock over the rate of change and an inability to keep up with persisting innovation, hence the title.
Toffler’s book started strong and hooked me with the general premise – he uses easy-to-follow analogies and examples, like the maximum travel speed remaining consistent for thousands of years until it shot up exponentially to the point where only two generations separated the first flight from the first space flight, but the book loses a bit of steam near the end, and some predictions about the future seem laughable a half century on. That said, I’m impressed as much was accurate as was, given that as per Toffler’s thesis, the world is significantly different from the one he wrote about.