Change is the first word in the vocabulary of Future Shock.
We don’t mind change, in fact, we like it. When life turns boring and dull, it spices things up and adds a zing back to it. But.
We like our change in small doses. We like to control it. We like it just this far and no farther. We want it in our special, pet flavors. And it must be limited to the exact area we mark out- like we would stake out a play pen for a child. As long as it stays there, comes when called and goes when shooed away, we find it droll.
All of us have our own pace of change that we are comfortable with . Some of us must change something in our life on a weekly basis others will change only after ants have made complicated colonies on our slopes. As long as change happens within our customized parameters, we are perfectly fine with it.
We don’t like change running amok jerking the very ground from under out feet with its lousy sense of timing, a pace that has us gasping for breath and pervasiveness that can only be called rude. Don’t give us this kind of change; we don’t find it amusing.
A break down of the familiar, a dismantling of structure and a complete absence of predictability is not something the most prepared amongst us can deal with comfortably. Transience is very well once in a while, but if it becomes the rule rather than the exception, it has over stayed its welcome. It wasn’t a welcome to begin with, more like a tooth gnashing tolerance.
Change has three major components- the stage of life you are at when change happens, the area of your life it affects most vitally and the rapidity with which events unfold. Of the three, the rapid pace of change is the most potent. This one factor alone has made change into the shocking force it is.
The pace of change has gone out of control, accelerating change as never before. The momentum of this accelerative thrust has broken down all structures that we used once to reorient ourselves. Now there is nothing but rapidly shifting ground.
This rapid pace affects all areas of our life because it shakes us so deeply with it’s impact. Two decades ago, a change in one area of your life did affect the other areas too but it did not completely dismantle them. Now everything is so constantly in a state of flux and so delicately balanced on each other that a small change- but very rapid- brings everything tumbling down.
The vehicle of this accelerated pace of change is technology. Technology no longer only means gizmos and assembly lines, technology also means a new way of solving problems. Toffler writes, and I quote:
Technological innovation consists of three stages, linked together to form a self sustaining cycle. First, there is the creative, feasible idea. Second, it’s practical application. Third, it’s diffusion through society. This diffusion then triggers the next creative and so on it spirals.
The first English patent for the typewriter was issued in 1714. But a century and a half elapsed before typewriters became commercially available. By the time they diffused through society and their usage became common, another half century went inching past.
Such a thing is impossible to imagine today. With each new technological breakthrough sparking off a string of new breakthroughs, with each new idea feeding on itself and becoming fodder for more ideas, it is no longer possible to stall the technological engine. The time it took once for a technology to move from the drawing board to the production line and from the production line to wide spread use has become so small that we’ve had to coin a term for it. We call such rapid permeation viral. The quantity and the rate of things that go viral today is mind boggling.
To add to this effervescent mix, add the impact of rapid knowledge and information transfer. We are no longer limited by the physical world for skill, technique or knowledge acquisition. No matter which skill you wish to learn, there are innumerable resources available on the internet. There are videos, there are blogs and unlimited articles. I have never gone to Google with a query and been disappointed. When I tell you that I can now bake delectable whole wheat bread at home through the internet (a skill I never dreamed of ever acquiring in my life), you will know how awed I am with the ultimate technological engine- Computers.
Learning has become boundaryless. In this environment, the rate at which innovation can happen- is happening- is unpredictable and uncontrollable. In a scant ten years, the manner in which we interact and communicate with each other has changed in a way that we could not have imagined.
There is a species of bamboo which grows to a height of 90 feet in one week. If you sit looking at it, it is said, you can actually see it growing. That is how change is happening too. If you sit still for a while, you will see it happening in front of your eyes, without the need for time lapse photography.
We barely learn one skill when it has already become obsolete. The rate at which change is happening has become phenomenal. It is the pace of change that is the most difficult aspect of change today- not its unpredictable timing nor its intrusion into unsuspected areas. The rat race was never so exhausting. No matter how fast you run, the wheel spins even faster.
The world Toffler warned us of, has come. We are living in a Future Shocked world. A very unexpected source underscored the evidence of change for me a few days ago. I don’t often watch television but sometimes my kids insist I watch some movie with them. Surfing channels during a very long commercial break, I came upon a Hindi movie from the mid-1990s and started watching it.
Within seconds, my kids let out a wail of protest. Truth be told, I too found the movie pathetically dull and slow. The absence of something as ordinary as a cell phone- making it impossible for the heroine to inform the hero of the villain’s devastating move- was something that made my son ask me exasperated, “Why doesn’t she call him and tell him to stay away from that factory?” He could NOT believe that there was a time when there were no cell phones.
In fact, how on earth did we manage without cell phones? Can you imagine the time when land-line phones were a rarity? People would ask you, “Are you on the phone (meaning do you have a phone)?” Can you recall what a major project it used to be to make a trunk- call? If the call came through in less than half a day, you went about strutting and preening, remember? As for international calls, forget about it. It is besides the point that there was hardly anyone to call anyhow. The world has literally transformed in our lifetime.
I am thrilled to have been born in these times, aren’t you?
This is a series of read along posts on Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock. The first part is Futurist- I, er…. naturally.
- Futuristic- I (serenelyrapt.wordpress.com)