Astonishing Prescience: Creating a New Civilization, by Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler

I recently reread a book I picked up in the 1990s entitled Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. Much of the book was derived from their earlier works War and Anti-War and Powershift, but there is also new content in this book. The book’s thesis was that global civilization has three waves: an agricultural First Wave, an industrial Second Wave, and a Third Wave based on knowledge and communication. I was astonished to see how much they had gotten right. Here are some highlights:

The importance of knowledge is key to the Third Wave. Certainly, knowledge was required in the old days of pure agriculture and mass industry. But now, there is much more emphasis on knowledge. “Businesses, governments, and individuals are collecting and storing more sheer data than any previous generation and history,” said the Tofflers, well before “big data” became a household term. It’s not enough to have knowledge – it needs to be used, changed, learned, and transmitted between those businesses, governments, and individuals. Knowledge reduces the need for capital, resources, energy, time, and labor. And as the Tofflers were careful to emphasize, “not all this new knowledge is “correct”…much knowledge is unspoken…and it includes not simply data…but values, the products of passion and imagination, not to mention imagination and intuition.”

Since we all have different values, different passions, and different knowledge, the rise of the de-massified society was easy for the Tofflers to predict. De-massified society refers to less emphasis on mass production and mass media and more emphasis on choice and customization, whether in products, media (such as all of our LinkedIn pages), politics, religion, or anything else. We can see this on websites like Amazon, which has just about anything. 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, make customization even easier; individuals can even buy their own 3-D printers.

The Tofflers didn’t miss their chance to give the two major political parties a dose of reality. Here’s what they said about each:

“The Democrats’ reflexive reliance on bureaucratic and centralist solutions to problems like the health insurance crisis is drawn straight from Second Wave theories of efficiency.”

Exactly. Government is essential for some things, but not for everything. There is much that the private sector and nonprofits can do. Some government oversight may still be necessary. And let’s not forget individual responsibility for health: eat right (at least most of the time – I’m not perfect either!), get some sleep, and get some exercise! Neither the government nor HMOs can do this for you; you have to do it yourself. Exercise and healthy eating need not be dull!

“Republicans tend to play down potentially immense social dislocations that are likely to flow from any change as profound as the Third Wave…Free-marketism and trickle-downism twisted into rigid theological dogma are inadequate responses to the Third Wave. For example…electronic services might well slash the number of entry-level jobs in the traditional retail sector, precisely the place undereducated young people can get their start.”

Again, exactly. Exhibit one:’s Kiva robots that reduce the need for human workers in fulfillment centers. The robot hamburger maker is here too. The manufacturer’s cofounder, Alexandros Vardakostas, bluntly stated that this device “isn’t meant to make employees more efficient. It’s to completely obviate them.”

Here’s how I would interpret this for anyone who has graduated from high school and isn’t sure what to do next: You must learn a skill or trade…but universities with their extortionate tuition rates are not the only path to a skill or trade that pays well. Yes, you need university for some fields, such as doctor or nurse or lawyer. But for many other fields that are skilled and pay well, you can attend a trade or technical school. That’s what I’m doing to earn my CompTIA A+ certification. All I’m doing is studying for that certificate. No other classes, unless I want them. I study on my own time; no need to be in a classroom; no semesters or quarters. This is much cheaper than a four-year degree at a university. You can do this too! (The Tofflers would have called this the de-massification of education.) Show recruiters that you’re valuable; don’t expect the government to take care of you. (There has been much talk about the universal basic income, along with some pilot projects, but I do not see this becoming a nationwide program anytime soon.) Get a skill ASAP, because the truly unskilled jobs that cannot be shipped overseas will be automated bit by bit.

Sad to say, Alvin Toffler died in 2016. His wife and coauthor, Heidi Toffler, survives him. Their research firm, Toffler Associates, is located in Reston, Virginia.

Bottom line: Read this book, especially if you don’t have the time to read all of the Tofflers’ works. It really is amazing how many of their predictions turned out to be true.