Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Future Shock Is Already Here"

In 1969 I read "Future Shock" by Alvin Toffler.  The book left a deep impression on me as it was both exciting and scary.  Toffler's book reported on the explosive growth in technology and how that technology would be both a blessing and a curse.  He predicted that the speed in technology advances will produce a corresponding "speed-up" in the pace of our lives, and how to best deal with it. 

Now, I'm not an expert, but I don't think I've ever read a better predictor of the future than Mr. Toffler.  To think that, more than forty years ago, we would be given advance warning so that we could, if not adjust to the social turbulence, at least be able to see it in context.   I've been grateful to Mr. Toffler for helping this old curmudgeon to see what's coming, even if I'm not pleased by the events.

I've been fortunate to be a "reader".  In keeping up with events and ideas I'm able to avoid the "deer in the headlights" syndrome whereby technology innovations and "grass-fire" rapidity of events so overwhelm one that they are left to puzzle over what's happening to them.

Now, I'm just fine with media satellite development and microwave ovens; the former affords me the opportunity to see world events in real time or find a GPS address in record time and the latter allows me to bake a potato in five minutes.  It's the social media that has me stumped.

You might find it interesting to note that, although I didn't "invent the internet" as claimed by Al Gore, I was one of the earliest users.  While serving with the Air Force at a major command headquarters I used to trod down to the basement in command headquarters and use the "internet" to communicate troop deployment plans to air bases in the Pacific.  At that time the internet was used by the military and selective colleges exclusively.

None of that experience helped me to conceive of what the internet would become.  I was as fascinated as anyone when I could dial up AOL and visit "chatrooms" as diverse as "grandpas" to "harley riders".  What the internet eventually did for me was to accelerate my knowledge bank ten thousand fold!  I really believe I have augmented my BA degree with ten masters degrees during the past twenty years.  Every day the internet introduces me to a new idea or some new level of knowledge.   During the first few years of "logging on" I would follow link after link, learning ever-expansive information on any subject I wished to learn about. 
The internet affords me the opportunity to read a book, listen to a song, research history, look up the plot of a movie on Wikipedia., send an e-card to a loved one, email a letter to family, send and receive pictures and a thousand other tasks!

Like anything else, the internet can also be bad.  Human civility has suffered as folks can now cowardly spout insults to friend or foe; words they would never have the courage to utter face to face.   We can now sit in utter isolation, in the comfort of home, and visit each other...but without the grace of touch and feel so vital to human interaction.  This has created a level of savagery unknown to most of us. 

So, Mr. Toffler, thanks for helping me adjust to Future Shock; it is here now and I both embrace it and struggle with it.  I'm sure I would be far worse had I not read your insightful glimpses into what was to come.

Sometimes I have to retreat from it, Mr. Toffler.  Sometimes I back away from the computer to look at an aging photograph on my bookshelf.  Sometimes I pick up the phone and rejoice in the sound of a human voice.  Sometimes I have to tune out "Glee" and "American Idol" and watch "The Waltons" or Lucy and Ethyl tromping those grapes.

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