Book Reviews ALVIN TOFFLER: "THE THIRD WAVE" - Page 2

ALVIN TOFFLER: "THE THIRD WAVE" - Page 2

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ALVIN TOFFLER: "THE THIRD WAVE"
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THE THIRD WAVE 

In his analysis of the transformation from First Wave to Second Wave civilization, Toffler makes it clear that it is the change in the techno-sphere (i.e. the interrelated energy, technology and distribution systems) that brings about new ways of living, new attitudes, new ideas and new understandings of the human condition.

The principle of integration which underpinned Second Wave civilization and led to mass production and its concomitants of synchronization, standardization, concentration, maximization and centralization, is the very principle that comes under attack in Third Wave Civilization and leads to the breakdown of industrial systems and “indust-reality” (110) Indust-reality is Toffler’s word for a worldview based on machine technology that brought with it “a redefinition of God... of justice...of love...of power...of beauty ... new ideas, attitudes and analogies. ... (that) subverted and superseded ancient assumptions about time, space, matter, and causality” (110). Second Wave understandings are breaking down and leading to crises in every aspect of life.

Crisis in the postal systems. Crisis in the school systems. Crisis in health-delivery systems. Crisis in the urban systems. Crisis in the international financial system. The nation-state itself is in crisis. The Second Wave value system is in crisis.                                               Even the role system that held industrial civilization together is in crisis. (135)

And these crises result from changes in the techno-sphere (new energy-technology-distribution systems) that mandate a reorganisation of our way of working, living and thinking.

Energy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The Second Wave depended on fossil fuels to supply the energy that drove the Second Wave engine. But Second Wave systems are breaking down because fossil fuels are running out. We have to find new sources of energy if human civilization is to survive: thus the search for solar, wind, wave and geothermal power and sources such as the burning of garbage. We live in fear of having to return to a way of life stripped of all the amenities that come from a constant supply of electricity.

Technology                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Computer technology has reduced the need for masses of workers and for massive systems that were essential to the Second Wave.                                              - The cell phone, computer and fibre optics have reduced the need for massive postal and telephone systems. Telecommunications and publications are moving into cyberspace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                – Computer technologies are breaking down concepts like nationalism and taking us into globalism.                                                                                               – New technologies are leading to the discovery of new forms of energy that are not dependent on fossil fuels.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       - Manufacturing is beginning to move into space. Farming and mining operations are beginning to move into ocean beds.   (153)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       - Genetic engineering is creating a shift from manufacturing to biofacturing.  (159-60)

New scientific and technological explorations and developments are making the factory model of the Second Wave redundant. As a result there is growing unemployment. Workers can no longer depend on the private and public sectors for a living.                                                                                        

The factory system of education that served the Second Wave is no longer suited to the needs of the computer age; it does not equip pupils and students with the competencies needed by new technologies such as information theory, quantum electronics and molecular biology which are creating the new civilization. Teachers and students are at odds. Teachers are in Second Wave Mode while children have moved into the Third Wave with computer games, cell phones and other Third Wave technology.

In Third Wave Civilization, the principle of standardization is being replaced by the need for diversity.                                                                                           - Standardisation that resulted from mass production led to standardisation in all aspects life, in products, fashions, conventions and thought patterns and the demand for equality. With the Third Wave comes diversity. The long runs of mass production are giving way to short runs for niche markets, specialization, customization and greater individuality.                                                                                                                                                                                                - Mass circulation of newspapers and magazines is dropping and community newspapers and specialist magazines are becoming more common.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                – One-way national broadcasting systems have given way to greater diversification. There are many more radio stations and they cater to specialized audiences. With TV, in addition to national broadcasters, there are also private stations and cable TV which provides specialized viewing packages. With Citizen Band radio came two-way communication between broadcaster and receiver. That led to interaction between broadcasters and receivers; now Radio and TV make provision for listener and viewer feedback.                                                                                                                                                                                             – TV provides a variety of images and information about other parts of the world. As this information is constantly being updated, understanding of the world has not only increased but is constantly changing.

The Third Wave can be called the Information Age because of the growth and expansion of information, its sources, ease of access, greater literacy, audio-visual media that do not necessarily require literacy, social media, and so on.

                   ... a First Wave child growing up in a slowly changing village built his or her model of reality out of images received from a tiny handful of 
                   sources      – the teacher, the priest, the chief or official and, above all, the family ... The images built up by the village child, therefore, were very 
                   narrow in range. (167-8)                                                                                                                            
                   The Second Wave multiplied the number of channels from which the individual drew his or her picture of reality. The child no longer received
                    imagery from nature or people alone but from newspapers, mass magazines, radio, and, later on, from television. For the most part, church, state,
                    home and school continued to speak in unison, reinforcing one another. But now the mass media themselves became a giant loudspeaker. And their
                   power was used across regional, ethnic, tribal, and linguistic lines to standardize the images flowing in society’s mind-stream.
                    (168)                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
                  Today the Third Wave is drastically altering all this. As change accelerates in society it forces a parallel acceleration within us. New information 
                  reaches us and we are forced to revise our image-file continuously at a faster and faster rate. Older images based on past reality must be replaced,
                  for, unless we update them, our actions become divorced from reality and we become progressively less competent. We find it impossible to cope. 
                 (169)

                 An information bomb is exploding in our midst, showering us with a shrapnel of images and drastically changing the way each of us perceives and  
                acts upon our private world.  In shifting from a Second Wave to a Third Wave info-sphere, we are transforming our own psyches. (167)

               This speed-up of image processing inside us means that images grow more and more temporary. Throwaway art, one-shot sitcoms, Polaroid 
               snapshots, Xerox copies, and disposable graphics pop up and vanish. Ideas, beliefs, and attitudes skyrocket into unconsciousness, are challenged,
               defied, and suddenly fade into nowhere-ness. Scientific and psychological theories are overthrown and superseded daily. Ideologies crack. Celebrities
               pirouette fleetingly across our awareness. Contradictory political and moral slogans assail us. (169)

The constant updating of information and images leads to more complex understandings, more informed choices and inculcates notions of individual and democratic freedom. It leads to a growth in brain power, to greater intelligence.

Second Wave civilization, which was ruled by linear and atomized thinking, a product of the assembly-line culture, developed analysis based on the direct link between cause and effect. In the Third Wave cause and effect analysis has given way to contextual analysis where causes arise from a multiplicity of factors.

The discovery of ways to use technology to create diversity breaks down the standardisation that resulted from mass production and is returning us to customization, (which was a First Wave practice). The Third Wave through increasing interest in DIY activities and involvement of consumers in elements of production (275-321) is bringing together, the producer and consumer – “prosumer” (275) (In the First Wave people were producer-consumers.)

In 1973, when OPEC choked “off the world’s supply of crude oil, it sent the entire Second Wave economy into a shuddering down-spin.”  (143) That was the beginning of the realisation that energy based on fossil fuels was coming to an end.

                     Techno-rebels, people who see the technological threat to life on earth, ... “argue that in moving into the Third Wave we must advance, step by
                      step, from the resource-wasteful, pollution-producing system of production used during the Second Wave era towards a more ‘metabolic’ system
                      that eliminates waste and pollution by making sure that the output and by-product of each industry becomes an input for the next. The goal is a
                      system under which no output is produced that is not an input for another production process downsteam. Such a system is not only more
                      efficient in a production sense, it minimizes, or indeed eliminates, damage to the biosphere. (165)

 

The Third Wave, which reads almost like science fiction, is an exciting exploration into human capabilities. The breadth and depth of Toffler’s insights, which are scarcely captured in this review, can only be appreciated by firsthand encounter with the contents of the

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