Future Shock, Present Shock, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

What is Future Shock and what are Its Characteristics?

In the 1970s, noted Futurist, Alvin Toffler, coined the term Future Shock to describe the then emerging services sector in what was essentially a manufacturing and industry led economy.

In the book, Future Shock, he explains that the world was then witnessing a shift from what he called the Smokestack Era (to illustrate the predominance of the manufacturing sector) to an Era where people would be working in services firms such as Software and Financial Services.

He goes on to predict the dominance of the services sector in a few decades which in hindsight has proven to be true. This is not surprising since Toffler was a Futurist par excellence who could see patterns and discern trends and predict the future.

Further, he describes how the collision of the two eras was causing people and society and economy in general to be disoriented and shocked by the imminent arrival of the future and thus, the term Future Shock.

Indeed, given the fact that the then emerging future did cause large scale changes in the way economies functioned and societies operated as well as in the way the employer employee relationship changed, it was indeed a time of profound dislocation and disturbance.

We suggest to our readers to pick up a copy of this book or at least get a summary online to understand the past and more importantly, make sense of the present times.

Relevance of Toffler to the Present Times

Talking about the present times, the relevance of the book and Toffler to where we are now can be seen in the way the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution is reshaping our economies and altering our lifestyles in ways that are eerily similar to the ones that our parents and earlier generations experienced.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a term used to describe the emerging technological changes and Smartphone and Mobile led computing that has enabled us to become digital in all facets of our lives.

In addition, not only our jobs and lifestyles are changing, other sectors such as Medicine, Transportation, Urban Systems, and the very nature of our democracies is likely to be changed due to advances in the human and physical sciences not to leave out changes in engineering and manufacturing.

All these changes have led to disorientation in our ways of life where we begin to adjust to the New Normal that is digital and powered by robots and enabled by exponentially accelerating technology.

Brave New World Enabled by Technology

This has enabled by a revolution in computing that has made possible Genetic Mapping, Virtual Reality, the rise of Freelance, or Gig Economy. Further, there has been a shift in the way power works wherein top down and hierarchical modes of power relationships have given way to network and bottom up as well as horizontal tier relationships wielding power.

In addition, changes in the way healthcare functions wherein advances in genetics and robot powered surgeries means that the traditional methods of healing are now being replaced by an entirely new paradigm.

Indeed, even the way in which funding of projects and ventures is done is changing with the advent of Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing, which means the power of many is more important than the power of one.

No discussion on the Fourth Industrial Revolution is complete without referring to the AI (Artificial Intelligence) powered and Big Data driven Algorithmic media and marketing sectors where our Facebook News Feeds, Twitter Feeds, and any online news website contains content that is generated by machine algorithms using these technologies.

It is safe to say that our entire way of life and our work styles and our systems are now driven more by technology than by humans.

Is Future Shock Leading to Present Shock?

Thus, what we are now going through is the collision of the old and the new that Toffler described in his book. In addition, while the imminent arrival of the future is shocking us, it is also the case that many of us are tending to live in the present and for the now instead of preparing for the future.

Indeed, as can be seen from the rising debt levels among Millennials and the increase in credit card debt, what we are essentially doing is borrowing in the expectation of future returns which can be unpredictable.

This has led to many being under what is known as Present Shock where we turn to our devices as a reality avoidance measure and to momentarily forget ourselves in the seductive glow of our Smartphone screens.

Another futurist, Douglas Rushkoff has coined the term Present Shock, to describe how all of us are blindsided by the present. While living for the present and for the moment is something that spiritual teachers recommend, the fact remains that in the real world, we need to work and save for the future.

While 24/7 news cycles and Breaking News cultures provide instant gratification, they also lead to what Rushkoff called collapse of narrative and a general tendency to say and do things that have negative longer term consequences.

Hence, while the future is both exciting and bewildering, we also need to avoid disorientation by methodical planning and rigorous hard work instead of avoiding tough choices by immersing ourselves in the present.

The trend of Smartphone Addiction and overuse of devices points to such disorientation and Future and Present Shock. To conclude, the emerging generation has a chance to transform the world in ways that were never imagined. It remains to be seen whether they rise to the occasion.


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The article is Written By “Prachi Juneja” and Reviewed By Management Study Guide Content Team. MSG Content Team comprises experienced Faculty Member, Professionals and Subject Matter Experts. To Know more, click on About Us. The use of this material is free for learning and education purpose. Please reference authorship of content used, including link(s) to ManagementStudyGuide.com and the content page url.


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