Alvin Toffler is arguably one of the best all time futurists. The Financial Times see him as the ‘world’s most famous futurologist.’ Characterized as important early influence on radical centrist political thought. In his earlier days Toffler was a White House correspondent, and editor of Fortune magazine.
After leaving Fortune magazine, Alvin Toffler was hired by IBM to do research and write a paper on the social and organizational impact of computers, leading to his contact with the earliest computer “gurus” and artificial intelligence researchers and proponents. Xerox invited him to write about its research laboratory and AT&T consulted him for strategic advice. This AT&T work led to a study of telecommunications which advised its top management for the company to break up more than a decade before the government forced AT&T to break up.
In the mid-’60s the Tofflers began work on what would later become Future Shock.
In 1996, with Tom Johnson, an American business consultant, they co-founded Toffler Associates, an advisory firm designed to implement many of the ideas the Tofflers have written on. The firm worked with businesses, NGOs, and governments in the U.S., South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, Australia and other countries.
In his book The Third Wave Toffler describes three types of societies, based on the concept of “waves”—each wave pushes the older societies and cultures aside.
· Second Wave is the society during the Industrial Revolution (ca. late 17th century through the mid-20th century). The main components of the Second Wave society are nuclear family, factory-type education system and the corporation. Toffler writes: “The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, massrecreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style oforganization we call bureaucracy.”
· Third Wave is the post-industrial society. According to Toffler, since the late 1950s most nations have been moving away from a Second Wave Society into what he would call a Third Wave Society, one based on actionable knowledge as a primary resource. His description of this (super-industrial society) dovetails into other writers' concepts (like the Information Age, Space Age, Electronic Era, Global Village, technetronic age, scientific-technological revolution), which to various degrees predicted demassification, diversity, knowledge-based production, and the acceleration of change (one of Toffler’s key maxims is “change is non-linear and can go backwards, forwards and sideways”).
In this post-industrial society, there is a wide diversity of lifestyles . Adhocracies (fluid organizations) adapt quickly to changes. Information can substitute most of the material resources (seeersatz) and becomes the main material for workers (cognitarians instead of proletarians), who are loosely affiliated. Mass customization offers the possibility of cheap, personalized, production catering to small niches (see just-in-time production).
The gap between producer and consumer is bridged by technology using a so-called configuration system. “Prosumers” can fill their own needs (see open source, assembly kit, freelance work). This was the notion that new technologies are enabling the radical fusion of the producer and consumer into the prosumer. In some cases prosuming entails a “third job” where the corporation “outsources” its labor not to other countries, but to the unpaid consumer, such as when we do our own banking through an ATM instead of a teller that the bank must employ, or trace our own postal packages on the internet instead of relying on a paid clerk.
Since the 1960s, people have been trying to make sense out of the impact of new technologies and social change. Toffler’s writings have been influential beyond the confines of scientific, economic and public policy discussions. Techno music pioneer Juan Atkins cites Toffler’s phrase “techno rebels” in The Third Wave as inspiring him to use the word “techno” to describe the musical style he helped to createToffler’s works and ideas have been subject to various criticisms, usually with the same argumentation used against futurology: that foreseeing the future is nigh impossible. In the 1990s, his ideas were publicly lauded by Newt Gingrich.
Alvin Toffler co-wrote his books with his wife Heidi. A few of their well-known works are:
· Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century (1990)
Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-29215-3
Bantam Books ISBN 0-553-29215-3