“There are limits to the amount of change that the human organism can absorb, and that by endlessly accelerating change without first determining these limits, we may submit masses of men to demands they simply can not tolerate. We run the high risk of throwing them into that peculiar state that I have called Future Shock.” Thus wrote Alvin Toffler in 1970.
In articulating the effect of Future Shock, Toffler observed that “US is a nation in which tens of thousands of young people flee reality by opting for drug-induced lassitude, a nation in which millions of their parents retreat into video induced stupor or alcoholic haze…”
Thankfully, this bleak vision of the future has not come to pass. Indeed, the changes have continued to accelerate, perhaps faster than what Toffler might have imagined. And yet the nation seems quite healthy, and population thrives without “opting for drug-induced lassitude or retreating to video induced stupor”.
For one thing, human beings have proven to be much more resilient than predicted in the face of onslaught of something new all the time. Contrary to what Toffler said, the parents have not given up and “retreated into alcoholic haze”, rather they have learned how to use FaceBook and iPad. Young people have not fled reality; rather they have embraced it. They have shaped the future through imagination and hard work. Not only have they coped; they have thrived.
And this is just the beginning, because the very technology onslaught that Toffler feared is helping us cope with itself. Our brain is no longer alone; it now has plenty of help from the likes of Google and Wikipedia. A new study confirms, what we intuitively feel, that Google is changing our brain. It is changing how and what our brain chooses to remember, thereby leveraging its existing capacity (Ref. “The Internet has become the external hard drive to our memory” by Daniel Wegner and Adrian Ward, Scientific American, November 2013).
We have not even talked about implants as a way to cope with the accelerating future. Memory implants will not just leverage our brain; they will expand it — -increase capacity and processing power. The Pentagon — -DARPA — -is already considering restoring combat memory loss using implantable devices. How far do you think is the day when we can purchase memory sticks for our brains from the local CVS?
The problem with predictions such as those made by Toffler, or before that — -much before that — -Malthus, is that they extrapolate future from present, and do not take into account human ingenuity to meet challenges.
They are the ones getting shocked by the future.