How is Toffler's three wave theory evident in contemporary society?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Alvin Toffler's theory is based on his book, The Third Wave, which he published in 1980 with the intention of making it part of a trilogy.

He posits that the First Wave was the agrarian society that prevailed after hunter-gatherer cultures. This society flourished until the Industrial Revolution in the mid-eighteenth century. At that time, the Second Wave began: the Industrial Age. According to Toffler, key aspects of this Second Wave were the creation of the nuclear family, corporate structure, and a factory-type educational system. The Third Wave, according to Toffler, is the post-industrial age. This wave is characterized by a new emphasis on information technology. When Toffler published the book, computers were coming into practical, everyday use.

Historically, Toffler's ideas are sensible. The Neolithic Revolution, which occurred around 3,000 BCE (or BC, depending on your preferred mode of demarcation), began in the Fertile Crescent -- the region that is now Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and several other Middle Eastern nations, but then was mostly comprised of Mesopotamia. Technologies in irrigation began here, allowing for crops to flourish. Hunter-gatherer groups had been nomadic. However, the construction of farms allowed for people to settle and form villages and, ultimately, societies.

Within these societies, nuclear families were constructed. In this regard, I would disagree with Toffler's claim that the nuclear family developed in the Industrial Age. More prosperous families developed an interest in maintaining property among those who shared bloodlines. Marriage facilitated proper inheritance. One also began to see the development of more fixed gender roles a bit later in Akkadian societies.

Toffler is certainly right in stating that corporate culture began in the Industrial Age. Arguably, so did globalism. In 1793, the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney. A decade later, the United States made the Louisiana Purchase, annexing territory that was ideal for the cultivation of cotton. Demand for textiles was very high in both New England and Great Britain. Textile mills in both places depended on Southern cotton. 

The Industrial Age, which we began to call "manufacturing" after World War II, flourished until the mid-twentieth century. However, by the 1980s, many manufacturing jobs had disappeared from both the United States and Great Britain. Though it is important to note that manufacturing remains strong in some Western nations, such as Germany, Toffler, an American writer, probably had the United States foremost in his mind in his analysis of Western societies.

Our contemporary age is still transitioning from the Second Wave to the Third Wave, just as those who lived during the Industrial Revolution were struggling to transition from the First Wave to the Second Wave.

The concern, generally, is over jobs and the fear of being replaced by machinery and automated systems. Though capitalist systems thrive on innovation and progress, these features also inevitably leave behind those who cannot keep up with progress. Certain regions that once relied on manufacturing, and became wealthy as a result of it -- think of Detroit or Flint, Michigan during the postwar period -- have since fallen into depression, while cities that were built or transformed within the Information Age (e.g., Silicon Valley, Seattle, San Francisco) are very wealthy. 

Toffler also predicted other technological advances in the Third Wave that are now commonplace, including cable television, cloning, and mobile communication. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial