Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, dies aged 87

Toffler was one of the worlds most famous futurists who foresaw how digital technology would transform the world

Alvin Toffler, a guru of the post-industrial age whose books, including Future Shock, anticipated the transformation brought about by the rise of digital technology, has died. He was 87.

Toffler died in his sleep at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, on Monday, said Yvonne Merkel, a spokeswoman for his Virginia-based consulting firm Toffler Associates.

Toffler Associates (@TofflerInsights) June 29, 2016

With heavy hearts we share that Alvin Toffler, our firms founder, has died at age 87. #RememberingAlvinToffler https://t.co/PjzIZvRBD7

One of the worlds most famous futurists, Toffler co-wrote many books with his largely uncredited wife, Heidi, who survives him. In Time magazine, Michael Krantz wrote that with their 1970 blockbuster Future Shock, the husband-and-wife team blasted the infant profession into the mainstream and set the standard by which all subsequent would-be futurists have been measured.

Toffler was far from alone in foreseeing the economy shift from manufacturing and mass production to a computerised and information-based model, but few were more effective at popularising the concept, predicting the effects, and assuring the public that the traumatic upheavals of modern times were part of a larger and more hopeful story.

Future shock, a term he first used in a 1965 magazine article, was how Toffler defined the growing feeling of anxiety brought on by the bewildering and ever-accelerating pace at which life was changing. His book combined an understanding tone and page-turning urgency, as he diagnosed contemporary trends and headlines from war protests to the rising divorce rate as symptoms of a historical cycle that was overturning every facet of life.

He wrote: We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots religion, nation, community, family, or profession are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.

Alvin
Alvin Toffler in 1998. Photograph: Paul Sakuma/AP

Toffler offered a range of predictions and prescriptions, some more accurate than others. He forecast a new frontier spirit that could lead to underwater communities or artificial cities beneath the waves, and also anticipated the founding of space colonies a concept that fascinated his admirer Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and presidential candidate.

In Future Shock Toffler also speculated that the rising general prosperity of the 1960s would continue indefinitely.

We made the mistake of believing the economists of the time, Toffler told Wired magazine in 1993. They were saying, as you may recall, Weve got this problem of economic growth licked. All we need to do is fine-tune the system. And we bought it.

He attracted millions of followers, including many from the business community, and the books title became part of the general culture. Curtis Mayfield and Herbie Hancock were among the musicians who wrote songs called Future Shock, and the book influenced science-fiction novels, including John Brunners The Shockwave Rider. More recently, Samantha Bee hosted a recurring Future Shock segment on Comedy Central. A documentary based on Future Shock came out in 1972, featuring narration by Orson Welles.

Toffler is credited with popularising another common expression, defining the feeling of being overrun with data and knowledge as information overload.

In the decades following Future Shock, Toffler co-wrote more books including Powershift and The Adaptive Corporation, lectured worldwide, and met the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as well as network executives and military officials.

In 2002, the management consultant organisation Accenture ranked him No. 8 on its list of the top 50 business intellectuals, and in 2006 the Chinese newspaper Peoples Daily named Toffler as one of the top 50 westerners who most influenced the country, even as communist officials censored his work.

One of his most famous observations was: The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

In the Third Wave, a 1980 bestseller that AOLs founder, Steve Case, would cite as a formative influence, Toffler forecast the high-tech society that Case, Steve Jobs and others were just starting to put in place. He forecast the spread of email (electronic mail systems to replace the postman and his burdensome bags), telecommuting, teleconferences, interactive media, devices that remind you of your own appointments, and online chat rooms.

Overall, he pronounced the downfall of centralised hierarchies and looked forward to a more dispersed and responsive society, populated by a hybrid of consumer and producer he called the prosumer.

Toffler, a native of New York City, was born on 4 October 1928 to Jewish Polish immigrants. He graduated from New York University, was a Marxist and union activist in his youth, and continued to question the fundamentals of the market economy long after his politics moderated. He knew the industrial life firsthand through his years as a factory worker in Ohio.

I got a realistic picture of how things really are made the energy, love and rage that are poured into ordinary things we take for granted, he later wrote.

He had dreamed of being the next John Steinbeck, but found his talents were better suited for journalism. He wrote for the pro-union publication Labors Daily, and in the 1950s was hired by Fortune magazine to be its labour columnist. The origins of Future Shock began in the 1960s when Toffler worked as a researcher for IBM and other technology companies.

Toffler is survived by Heidi, and his sister, Caroline Sitter. Tofflers daughter, Karen, died in 2000.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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