Alvin Toffler is described as a Futurist. He is a man who studies societal behavior and identifies the cause of the behaviors. Of these, change is certainly one of the biggest factors. In recent times, the rate of change- in volume and frequency- has made change the biggest factor that impacts human behavior. On the basis of his studies, he predicts the manner in which individual and community behavior will change in the future.
I had read Toffler’s trilogy nearly five years ago. The three books had made an impression on me then too but I was going through a lot of personal challenges in those days. I had no time to mull over what I had read. Thus the books did not have as great an impact than they should have had. It left me feeling uneasy, as if I had missed the point of something very significant.
It is somewhat like walking past a field strewn with diamonds lost in your own thoughts. Your peripheral vision had seen those diamonds though. The memory of those glittering pebbles has been nagging you to revisit the field. A part of you wonders if you imagined the diamonds. Simultaneously, you also wonder how many of those diamonds you’d be able to find now.
With the urgent holding the important to ransom in my life those days, the re- read kept getting postponed.
When I began reading it again yesterday, I knew I hadn’t imagined the diamonds. He creates sheer music with the meticulous structures into which he guides your jumbled up thought process. You feel as if you were struggling with a terribly tangled skein of yarn that a master untangles with just a gentle tug of a string end you never even saw. Serendipity.
The first chapter is called The 800th Lifetime. With a simple ruse, he creates a yardstick with which to measure human progress. I’d like to quote from the book here:
…if the last 50,000 years of man’s existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately sixty- two years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 800, fully 650 were spent in the caves.
Only during the last seventy lifetimes has it been possible to communicate effectively from one lifetime to another- as writing made it possible to do. Only during the last six lifetimes did masses of men ever see a printed word. Only during the last four has it been possible to measure time with any precision. Only in the last two has anyone anywhere used an electric motor. And the overwhelming majority of all the material goods we use in daily life today have been developed in the present, the 800th, lifetime.
With a few sentences, he creates a faultless benchmark. He pulls you back in a colossal zoom out to compel you to look at the forest. What an amazing way of creating an enlarged vision by changing the perspective! How many of our life situations could use a tool of this kind, creating a big picture where you couldn’t imagine one? In your own life, if you could create a whole life perspective, how many of your insurmountable challenges would become manageable and conquerable?
I remember coaching a middle level manager one- on- one a few years ago. He was stuck in a job he hated and saw no way out of it. At thirty eight he felt as if his life was over. He was suffering from a virulent attack of I’ve made my bed and now I must lie on it syndrome. Somehow, I’ve always found that proverb very silly. Why do you have to lie on the bed if it is full of thorns? Who stops you from making it again, lost your hands there, hey? But I digress.
This man was two ticks away from tying a figurative block of cement to his feet and jumping into the equally figurative pond barely two feet deep. And I know he’d have drowned because he had decided to drown. The only response to my why was a pained look accompanied with a grim, “Because I am 38 years old!” As if that explained everything.
“So why don’t you reinvent yourself and do the thing you love the most?” Exasperation is my middle name, yes.
“Because I am 38 years old!””
“That doesn’t mean anything. You’ve lots of time left.”
“No, because I am 38 years old!”
“But you hate your job!”
“I have to grin and bear it because I am 38 years old!”
You get the drift. It was most tiring.
He began working when he was twenty four. In fourteen years, he knew how deeply he loathed his profession and the company he worked for. For the misery he had endured for fourteen years, he wanted to condemn himself to greater misery (now that he knew he was miserable, the intensity of his gloom would be far greater) for the next twenty four years (he was to retire at 62). This was like saying, “The only way I can justify fourteen years of suffering is by being even more distressed for another twenty four years!”
Folks, I am a simple soul. Exasperating, but simple. I didn’t get this whole throw good money after bad concept. Specially when the good money was a hefty amount more than the bad money- if you know what I mean. I am a thrifty woman. This kind of waste appalls me.
He seemed like the king of fatheads to me. I told him so with my customary charm. He tottered out of my office, sandbagged. The next thing I heard a week later was that he’d begun to take guitar classes to sort himself out. A year later he bought a bit of land and now runs a play school, happy as a bug attached to your extremities making a meal out of you.
He inverted his lens so he could see the forest, not just the tree.
This is the first part of a read along series I will be doing on Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock.
Read Along is the name I have given to a book discussion as if you and I were reading it together and discussion the things that strike us as interesting and significant.
Future Shock is the first book of his trilogy. The other two are The Third Wave and Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century.