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"In describing today's accelerating changes, the media fire blips of unrelated information at us. Experts bury us under mountains of narrowly specialized monographs. Popular forecasters present lists of unrelated trends, without any model to show us their interconnections or the forces likely to reverse them. As a result, change itself comes to seem anarchic, even lunatic." - Alvin Toffler, Preface to "Power Shift" (1990)

Events seem to occur in such rapid succession that it becomes impossible to digest and react to one before focus shifts to another. Governments, businesses and individuals find themselves implementing solutions to past problems that are no longer appropriate in light of more recent events. Decision makers are forced to spend their time and effort reacting to emergencies rather than making plans to avoid them.

But that distorts the picture somewhat because basic events probably don't happen much faster now than they did in the past. The difference is that news of events moves faster than it did in the past. When something important happens, news spreads instantly throughout the globe. Instant information prompts instant reaction, news of which prompts more reaction in a spiraling storm of seeming chaos that ends only when new events initiate a new spiral of action and reaction. Welcome to the Third Wave - the Information Age - foreseen by Alvin Toffler some 30 years ago.

Alvin Toffler (and his wife Heidi) wrote three long wordy books about the impact of the "Information Age" on society. They did a remarkably accurate job of describing how everything (and I mean everything) is changing faster than our institutions can adapt.

The first (1970) was "Future Shock" where he said the pace of change coming would exceed human capacity to comprehend it. Therefore we would have to move to a higher level of abstraction and make decisions based on information about change instead of the change itself. You may think a 40 year old book about the future would be obsolete but you will be nodding your head in agreement as you read even today. He nailed it.

The second book they wrote (1980) was "The Third Wave" and in many respects, it is Toffler's definitive work. He contends that the first wave of change to transform civilization was the move from hunter/gatherer tribal units to agriculture. He calls that the First Wave. It lasted thousands of years with most human beings tied to the land and engaged in agriculture. The Second Wave of change to radically change civilization was the Industrial Revolution which emptied the farmers off the land into massive cities and put them to work in massive factories. (The population went from 98% farmers to 2% farmers and Ag production actually increased!)

The Industrial Age has lasted about 300 years from beginning to zenith. It is now in rapid decline as the Information Age creates a "Service" economy where power and wealth is increasingly based on information instead of military strength (force) and money. The massive institutions that served the Industrial Age (cities, factories, governments, schools, etc) are in decline because they are no longer needed. Toffler's conclusion is that we are living in a time of radical change that will transform civilization once again. The transition will be (and is) chaotic, frightening, possibly violent and baffling to the individuals caught up in it.

Toffler's third book (1990) was "Power Shift". It is about how immediate dissemination of information shifts power from those who have things - to those who know things. In turn, that changes everything from what constitutes an economically viable family unit to how wars are fought to the role and form of government. Twenty years after it was written, many of the things Toffler predicted are in progress. Events are not as confusing and frightening when viewed in context of the big picture Power Shift outlines.

Toffler's books are not the end-all - first, they are old and out of date.

Second, he gets so wrapped up in his Information Age thesis that he overlooks a lot of practical matters. For example, it is hard to clear a clogged sewer or stock grocery store shelves with information - somebody has to get dirty and go do it.

Third, he fails to consider what happens to the large number of people who don't have the ability or willingness (same net effect) to be informed and participate in the Information Age. They aren't just going to fade away.

Even with the limitations, Toffler does help put current events into historic perspective and offer some idea of where it might go. Just the idea that we are living in a time of transition where instability is the norm is helpful because we quit expecting a quick fix that takes up back to "the good old days". It ain't gonna happen.

"The world has moved on", to use Stephen King's phrase from the Dark Tower series.

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