Future Shock Essay - Critical Context

Alvin Toffler

Critical Context

The publication and remarkable popularity of Future Shock was a significant event in its time. The public gained a new awareness of “futurism”—the discipline that systematically and scientifically studies the future—and Toffler earned a reputation as a major “futurist.” Future Shock received the McKinsey Foundation Book Award in 1970 and the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger from France in 1972, was repeatedly cited in popular and scientific articles, and even inspired fictional responses, such as John Brunner’s The Shock Wave Rider (1975). Toffler frequently appeared on television and later met with such world leaders as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The ideas in Future Shock have had a discernable impact on modern society, making the book not only valuable but historically important as well. A bibliography of forty-five books on “future studies” in Toffler’s The Third Wave, all but seven published after Future Shock, provides one measure of the book’s broad influence.

While Toffler wrote several other books, the most important of these were the direct successors to Future Shock: The Third Wave and Powershift (1990). Introducing the latter volume, he describes these books as his “trilogy”: Future Shock focusing on the “process” of change, The Third Wave anticipating its outcomes or “direction,” and Powershift analyzing the “control” of change. While very readable, Future Shock is a long book—five hundred pages in paperback—so it has rarely served as a classroom text. Yet, because Toffler organized the book as a series of brief discussions of discrete topics in separate sections, many parts of Future Shock can be excerpted and read separately. Selections have often appeared in anthologies of readings for high school and college composition classes, and portions of the book might contribute to class discussions of current social problems. A 1972 documentary based on the book, made with Toffler’s participation and available on videotape, has also been employed in the classroom.