Friday, 5 September 2014

The Toffler Scorecard Part 1 - Disposability

My rather battered
version of Future Shock
Way back in 1970, when the world was very different 'futurologist' (I hate that word) Alvin Toffler produced an immensely popular book called Future Shock that predicted what he believed life would be like in the twenty-first century. In a series of posts I'm looking back at some of Toffler's predictions to see how they've turned out and what that can tell us about then and now.

Reflecting the change, particularly in America, that had brought in more and more of a throw-away society, Toffler envisaged a future where this approach was taken to the extreme. Apparently, in 1970 paper dresses were all the rage (I can't say I remember this), and wear-once-then-throw-away clothes were something Toffler assumed would become the norm. I don't know if he lived in Florida or California, but realistically paper clothes were always a non-starter as anything more than a gimmick - certainly in Manchester or Scotland, say. But is certainly true that the current young generation does think of clothes as more short-term purchases than a generation that bought clothes and kept them until the wore out. (My raincoat is over 30 years old and still going strong.)

However, what Toffler missed is the way that an awareness of green issues would become a natural background to life. While the younger generation don't hang onto clothes they way some older folk do, they also don't just throw them away. Instead they resort to recycling, whether via charity shops or services like eBay and Depop. And the same goes for much of our everyday things. Yes, we do change some products a lot more than we used to, but equally we tend to recycle them, ideally for money. It would have seemed crazy in 1970 to change your phone ever two years, say (it would, have course, have been a landline phone), but when we do make the change, we trade in the old one, or sell it.

On balance, then, this is a 50:50 prediction. Neither a hit nor a miss. We certainly do treat far more things as temporary than we used to. With technology, particularly, we feel driven to upgrade. I do have one bit of ICT kit that is over 10 years old (an HP LaserJet printer that simply does the job), but the average age of my ICT is probably about 2 years. Strangely, though, despite this, we are in a society less inclined to throw-away than Toffler's. We reuse, repurpose, recycle. Where he described a tendency to increasingly knock down old buildings, we (at least in the UK) now tend to treasure them and reuse them more than was the case in the 70s. It's ethical disposability. And that's rather interesting.

If you want to discover Toffler's predictions for yourself, you can buy Future Shock at and

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