What did Alvin Toffler predict? Did Toffler Predict Fundamental Crypto/Web3 Knowledge?

What did Alvin Toffler predict? Did Toffler Predict Fundamental Crypto/Web3 Knowledge?

Man remains at the end what he began as at the beginning: a biosystem with a limited capacity for change. When this capacity is exceeded, the consequence is a future shock.
– Alvin Toffler, “Future Shock” (1970)

Futurist Alvin Toffler died in 2016. Shortly after, the BBC published an article detailing what Toffler was right about the future – and what he was wrong. He has been credited with prophetic visions regarding the information age and its implications, genetic engineering (see: CRISPR), the demise or steady postponement of nuclear family formation, and the anxiety-provoking environments that “prosumers” – consumers with seemingly unlimited consumption choices – would end up finding themselves in it.

Of the latter, Toffler wrote: “People of the future may suffer not from a lack of choice but from a crippling excess of it. They can become victims of this particularly super-industrial dilemma: excessive choice.

Paralyzed by excessive choice, Netflix’s millions of users sift through endless lists of movies and shows, old and new, in every genre imaginable, before rinsing and repeating on Hulu, never making a choice.

Paralyzed by the excessive choice, the countless Amazon users endlessly sort and filter. Refine searches and read reviews. Before permanently closing their laptops, having decided on too much or nothing at all.

It’s important to point out, right from the start, when it comes to Toffler. Let futurologists – that is, serious futurists – study trends, draw logical conclusions and provide analysis.

They are not, and do not claim to be, tabloid astrologers or TV oracles. They don’t tell us what will happen in the future as much as what might happen. More Arthur Nielsen than Nostradamus. They employ analytical expertise to illuminate what may be lurking around the corner. Also, depending on where we’ve been and where we are. Thinkers, not seers, are often thrilled when later generations avoid doomed paths that once seemed likely based on earlier trajectories.

Similar in tone to his prediction that the people of the future (i.e. us) would experience excessive choice paralysis. Toffler wrote in The third wave. A groundbreaking analysis of human progression. Looking from the agricultural era (the first wave that lasted a millennium) to the industrial era. (The second wave that began in Western Europe in the 17th century.) Also, in the information age. (The third wave we currently find ourselves in.) Finally, “loneliness is now so prevalent that it has become, paradoxically, a shared experience.”

This statement was written in 1980, more than two decades before the dawn of social media.

Just as solitude becoming a “shared experience” seemed paradoxical to Toffler 40 years ago, the word “social” in “social media” seems out of place for many of us today.

The idea that constant torrents of information, images, updates, pings, ringtones. And dazzling LCD/OLED screens would trap us like balcony moths. As a result, leading to mass social isolation was not, and is not, universally accepted. (Although it has been validated in dozens of academic studies. Including a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. This found teens with high social media usage. Defined as two or more hours per day, were twice as likely to report feeling socially isolated as their counterparts with low levels of social media use, defined as half an hour or less per day).

Author Shel Israel, who covers social media for Forbeswrote in a 2012 rebuttal of Toffler’s analysis: “We are not isolated by it [the endless bombardment of information]. And when information overwhelms us, most people are still wise enough to use the “off” button to gain some peace.


Few of us are wise enough to take breaks; even fewer are free to turn it off completely for any significant amount of time.

In fact, in a 1996 radio interview on The Connection on Boston’s WBUR, David Foster Wallace – an author who openly confronted the fact that he was the product of a generation brought up on television, materially more comfortable that their parents’ generation in almost every way imaginable, but spiritually and emotionally discouraged – made an equally miserable observation about the role that technology and the endless stream of entertainment it provides play in our lives. Responding to the interviewer’s question about the Internet supplanting television as the dominant medium by which we receive information and entertainment, Foster Wallace remarked:

“The idea, however, that improved technology is going to solve the problems that technology has caused seems a bit pipe dream to me. I understand that there is some hope that the internet will democratize people and activate them. ‘it seems to me that if you still have a nation of people sitting in front of screens, interacting with images rather than each other, feeling lonely and therefore needing more and more images, you’re going to have the same problem of And the better the pictures get, the more tempting it will be to interact with pictures rather than other people, and I think the more lonely it will feel. That’s just my suspicion, my own opinion.

A premonitory suspicion, indeed. Instagram was founded a decade and a half after this interview aired. The world we find ourselves in today is actually more surreal than a nation sitting in front of screens all day, at home and at work, living vicariously through images. We’ve literally seen people get run over by buses crossing streets because they were looking at their smartphones; others have fallen off cliffs trying to capture the perfect selfie to impress their “followers”.

“This book…argues that the world has not descended into madness, and that in fact, beneath the crash and rattle of seemingly insane events lies a startling and potentially hopeful pattern. The Third Wave is for those who believe that human history, far from ending, has only just begun.
– Alvin Toffler, “The Third Wave” (1980)

We suffer from excessive choice and technology has, paradoxically, further alienated us as a social society. It seems clear. But what did Toffler get wrong in his visions of the future? What possibilities did he identify that never happened? One thing the BBC highlighted in its retrospective was the possibility of major cities shrinking in size and importance.

Cities have not declined. Since Toffler articulated this possibility, we have seen the opposite: mass global migration to urban areas. About 80% of Americans live in urban areas. Overall, the figure is closer to 55%. The United Nations predicts that by 2050 it will be around 68%. In 1990, there were only 10 megacities (cities with more than 10 million inhabitants) in the world. Today there are 33. In a decade they predict there will be 43.

“Trends, as powerful as they are, don’t continue in a straight line.”
– Alvin Toffler, “The Third Wave” (1980)

It was in The third wave that Toffler foresaw a computer-friendly future for post-industrial societies in which working from home would become the norm. He didn’t mention the Internet, because it didn’t exist back then, but he acknowledged that advances in microprocessors would soon allow us to automate almost all of our home environments. Calling the computer “the antidote to blip culture,” he certainly recognized the immense power that this monument of human achievement held, without knowing precisely how that power would manifest.

The possibility of large urban centers shrinking in size was directly related to the rise of personal computers and “electronic cottages”, homes in which the computer would play an increasingly important role. Toffler believed that we have moved from an industrial society to a service economy. Moreover, it would be in the interest of workers and employers to promote working from home and to avoid the time and costs associated with travel as much as possible. If and when travel to and from an office becomes obsolete, the importance of geographic proximity will also become obsolete, increasing the chances that bustling activity in city centers will decline.

Few companies have embraced the idea of ​​an entirely remote workforce. The ability to work from home once or twice a week is now generally seen as an advantage. This does not allow freedom of location. Workers find themselves tethered to their physical offices.

The future seems inevitable but it takes time. We are living in future lethargy, not future shock. We are so lethargic that perhaps only a global catastrophe could pull us through and provide the proper accelerator.

[COVID-19 enters from stage left, grins, leaves.]

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
– Alvin Toffler, “Future Shock” (1970)

The pandemic has forced the hand of employers, several years earlier than expected. A slow transition turned into something faster. Any business owner whose core offering doesn’t absolutely require face-to-face interaction needs to justify the cost of operating offices. They must be wondering where else that money could be spent. If they are concerned that employees working from home are slacking off. They must recognize that these same employees are slacking off at the office or replacing them. Additionally, wider nets will be cast for talent, as geographic location becomes a secondary consideration or not.

The end of a period of inertia.

Everything is lining up for this to happen sooner than expected; and if so, it could be accompanied by a decline in the importance and size of major city centres.

Time always tells us.

“We who explore the future are like those ancient cartographers, and it is in this spirit that the concept of future shock and adaptive range theory are presented here – not as a final word, but as a first approximation to the new realities, filled with danger and promise, created by the surge of acceleration.
– Alvin Toffler, “Future Shock” (1970)

Written by Joe McKeating


(atriapro.com) is a professional learning platform for organizations and individuals to acquire the basic crypto/web3 knowledge they need. The flagship “Foundations” program offers in-depth yet accessible training in distributed computing networks, blockchain technology, consensus mechanisms, hash functions, mining, staking, cryptocurrency, smart contracts, non-fungible tokens and decentralized finance.

What did Alvin Toffler predict? Did Toffler Predict Fundamental Crypto/Web3 Knowledge?


Donald E. Patel