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TOFFLER, Alvin



The Future Shock

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The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.

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To survive, to avert what we have termed future shock, the individual must become infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before. 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. It is no longer resources that limit decisions, it is the decision that makes the resources.

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By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education. Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization phrases it simply: ‘The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.

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Individuals need life structure. A life lacking in comprehensible structure is an aimless wreck. The absence of structure breeds breakdown.

Structure provides the relatively fixed points of reference we need. That is why, for many people, a job is crucial psychologically, over and above the paycheck. By making clear demands on their time and energy, it provides an element of structure around which the rest of their lives can be organized. The absolute demands imposed on a parent by an infant, the responsibility to care for an invalid, the tight discipline demanded by membership in a church or, in some countries, a political party — all these may also impose a simple structure on life.

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In education, we need to begin paying attention to matters routinely ignored. We spend long hours trying to teach a variety of courses on, say, the structure of government or the structure of the amoeba. But how much effort goes into studying the structure of everyday life — the way time is allocated, the personal uses of money, the places to go for help in a society exploding with complexity? We take for granted that young people already know their way around our social structure. In fact, most have only the dimmest image of the way the world of work or business is organized. Most students have no conception of the architecture of their own city's economy, or the way the local bureaucracy operates, or the place to go to lodge a complaint against a merchant. Most do not even understand how their own schools — even universities — are structured, let alone how much structures are changing under the impact of the Third Wave.

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I helped lift a sixty-five-year-old woman out of the bloody machine that had just torn four fingers off her hand, and I still hear her cries—"Jesus and Mary, I won't be able to work again! The factory. Long live the factory! Today, even as new factories are being built, the civilization that made the factory into a cathedral is dying. And somewhere, right now, other young men and women are driving through the night into the heart of the emergent Third Wave civilization. Our task from here on will be to join, as it were, their quest for tomorrow.

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