Monday, June 26, 2006

Yes, The Future IS That Scary

I'm reading a book called "Revolutionary Wealth" by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. It sounds like one of those Joel Osteen or Norman Vincent Peale books promising "literally tens of thousands of dollars in additional income" if only I find my passion and move confidently toward it while winning the love and support of others.

Quite the contrary. It's all about our society and our economy and how the future of both will be different from anything we have known in the past; how it is inevitable, and how we need to begin restructuring our societal institutions to deal with the changes upon us.

The quick summary that will hopefully encourage you to read more of this book is this:
The Tofflers--that wacky couple of "Futureshock" fame--cover both visible and invisible wealth, they discuss "prosuming," which is the unpaid work we all do that assists the money economy, such as volunteering, parenting, caring for aging or ill family members. They discuss our economy in three waves:

The first was Agrarian; back in the day when our economic system was founded upon growing things. The second was Industrial, when our economic system was founded upon making things. The new wave we are entering is Knowledge, which is founded upon knowing things, intangible functions like designing, financing, planning, researching, managing. This new wave will place more value on knowledge that on tangible commodities, and nations whose schools do not prepare their students for that economic system will find themselves left behind.

The Tofflers also touch upon the societal upheaval that occurs as one economic wave ends and another begins (using China and India as examples of countries where all three waves are occurring simultaneously in different regions, and the US as a country whose "industrial era bureaucracies" are slowing the move toward more advanced, knowledge-based systems for creating wealth and responding to disasters such as 9/11 and Katrina).

One very telling example involves terrorism and our response to it. Terrorist organizations are structured in a Third Wave way: they are tiny, loosely-networked cells capable of making quick decisions and trained to hit, run and vanish. The US government, by contrast, created a "solution" to the terrorist problem by creating an industrial-age answer to al-Qaeda: an agency that pulled "22 pre-existing pyramidal bureaucracies into a single mega-pyramid..." that is "masive, vertical and hierarchical." In short, we are still unprepared to deal with terrorism in a real and effective way, simply because "attempts to change or replace an industrial-era agency spark resistance from its traditional beneficiaries and their allies."

Perhaps the best element of this book is the tremendous depression you will feel after reading it as you realize, painfully and substantively, that the US education, defense, and other systems are broken beyond repair; that we are preparing students to fill jobs that won't exist, creating a military that can't fight wars as they will be fought in the future, developing bureaucracies that can't help citizens in times of massive national emergencies...all at a cost of trillions and trillions of dollars.

In short, we're screwed. Unless...well, you gotta read the book to find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just finished this book a couple of weeks ago it was amazing just like you said. we are definitely screwed.