July 5, 2016 Leave a comment
Alvin Toffler, the celebrated author of “Future Shock,” the first in a trilogy of best-selling books that presciently forecast how people and institutions of the late 20th century would contend with the immense strains and soaring opportunities of accelerating change, died on Monday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 87.
His death was confirmed by his consulting firm, Toffler Associates, based in Reston, Va.
Mr. Toffler was a self-trained social science scholar and successful freelance magazine writer in the mid-1960s when he decided to spend five years studying the underlying causes of a cultural upheaval that he saw overtaking the United States and other developed countries.
The fruit of his research, “Future Shock” (1970), sold millions of copies and was translated into dozens of languages, catapulting Mr. Toffler to international fame. It is still in print.
In the book, in which he synthesized disparate facts from every corner of the globe, he concluded that the convergence of science, capital and communications was producing such swift change that it was creating an entirely new kind of society.
His predictions about the consequences to culture, the family, government and the economy were remarkably accurate. He foresaw the development of cloning, the popularity and influence of personal computers and the invention of the internet, cable television and telecommuting.
“The roaring current of change,” he said, was producing visible and measurable effects in individuals that fractured marriages, overwhelmed families and caused “confusional breakdowns” manifested in rising crime, drug use and social alienation. He saw these phenomena as very human psychological responses to disorientation and proposed that they were challenging the very structures of communities, institutions and nations.
He continued these themes in two successful follow-up books, “The Third Wave” (1980) and “Powershift” (1990), assisted by his wife, Heidi Toffler, who served as a researcher and editor for the trilogy and was a named co-author in subsequent books. She survives him.
Mr. Toffler popularized the phrase “information overload.” His warnings could be bleak, cautioning that people and institutions that failed to keep pace with change would face ruin. But he was generally optimistic. He was among the first authors to recognize that knowledge, not labor and raw materials, would become the most important economic resource of advanced societies.
Critics were not sure what to make of Mr. Toffler’s literary style or scholarship. Richard R. Lingeman wrote in The New York Times that Mr. Toffler “sends flocks of facts and speculation whirling past like birds in a tornado.” In Time magazine, the reviewer R. Z. Sheppard wrote, “Toffler’s redundant delivery and overheated prose turned kernels of truth into puffed generalities.”
Mr. Toffler’s work nevertheless found an eager readership among the general public, on college campuses, in corporate suites and in national governments. Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House, met the Tofflers in the 1970s and became close to them. He said “The Third Wave” had immensely influenced his own thinking and was “one of the great seminal works of our time.”
For me, and I can’t speak for any other, Mr. Toffler’s work provided me a framework to build upon. I found his speculation, and informed speculation to be a guide as to how to start to piece things together in a coherent manner. I read the trilogy as it came out, and truthfully, my mind wasn’t open enough to grasp Future Schock properly, but as time went on, and the following books appeared, that changed, and I revisited them.
He was the first, that came to my attention, that had a vision of where all the disparate pieces of the 60s and 70s would lead. He wasn’t always right, but he was in a surprising number of cases. And you know, for me, at least, right or wrong in specific cases wasn’t really the point, except superficially. The point was that he taught me to look beyond the obvious, and to try and think about what the trends I see will mean in 10 or 20 or more years down the road. That is a very valuable skill, that I cherish, and that I owe to a small group of authors, led by Alvin Toffler.
Thank you, sir, and rest in peace.