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Toffler On Adapting To The Future

November 1, 2012

Excerpted from Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler:

In the technological systems of tomorrow – fast, fluid, and self-regulating – machines will deal with the flow of physical materials; [people] with the flow of information and insight. Machines will increasingly perform the routine tasks; [people] the intellectual and creative tasks. Machines and [people] both, instead of being concentrated in gigantic factories and factory cities, will be scattered across the globe, linked together by amazingly sensitive, near-instantaneous communications. Human work will move out of the factory and mass office into the community and the home.

Machines will be synchronized, as some already are, to the billionth of a second; [people] will be de-synchronized. The factory whistle will vanish. Even the clock, “the key machine of the modern industrial age,” as Lewis Mumford called it a generation ago, will lose some of its power over human, as distinct from purely technological, affairs. Simultaneously, the organizations needed to control technology will shift from bureaucracy to Ad-hocracy, from permanence to transience, and from a concern with the present to a focus on the future.

In such a world, the most valued atributes of the industrial era become handicaps. The technology of tomorrow requires not millions of lightly lettered [people], ready to work in unison at endlessly repetitious jobs, it requires not [people] who take orders in unblinking fashion, aware that the price of bread is mechanical submission to authority, but [people] who can make critical judgments, who can weave their way through novel environments, who are quick to spot new relationships in the rapidly changing reality. It requires [people] who, in C. P. Snow’s compelling term, “have the future in their bones”.

Finally, unless we capture control of the accelerative thrust – and there are few signs yet that we will – tomorrow’s individual will have to cope with even more hectic change than we do today. For education the lesson is clear: its prime objective must be to increase the individual’s “cope-abality” – the speed and economy with which he can adapt to continual change. And the faster the rate of change, the more attention moust be devoted to discerning the pattern of future events.

It is no longer sufficient for Johnny to understand the past. It is not even enough for him to understand teh present, for the here-and-now environment will soon vanish. Johnny must learn to anticipate the directions and rate of change. He must, to put it technically, learn to make repeated, probabilistic, increasingly long- range assumptions about the future. And so must Johnny’s teachers.

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