Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

10 of the World’s Most Groundbreaking Futurists

        Tech | Future Tech

Alvin Toffler

If you're puzzled by corporate executives and politicians who incessantly speak in jargon such as "game changer" and "change agent," thank Alvin Toffler, who worked as a business journalist for Fortune magazine and as a consultant for technology companies such as IBM, Xerox and AT&T [source:]. His 1970 book "Future Shock" popularized the idea that the increasingly fast pace of technological progress -- in particular, the rise of computers -- can be a disruptive force in society, because many people will struggle to keep up with changes they find bewildering and disorienting.

Toffler also advanced the idea that rapid change may fundamentally alter how humans interact with one another. The result? A state of being what Toffler calls "high transience," in which relationships last for shorter and shorter periods of time, and people, ideas and organizations get "used up" more and more quickly [source: Toffler]. In that world of increasing impermanence, Toffler predicted that consumers increasingly would evolve into a "throw-away society," buying disposable products designed to fill temporary needs, driven by fads that were consciously created to stimulate buying [source: Toffler].

When it was published, "Future Shock" seemed like a blueprint for a creepy, dysfunctional dystopian society where high-tech elite would strive to keep the stressed-out masses under control -- sort of like the science fiction movie "Soylent Green," but without an angry Charlton Heston raging against cannibalism. But in the decades since, we've seen Toffler's predictions become reality in myriad ways, ranging from disposable mobile phones to virtual corporations and "flash mobs" of individuals who gather briefly for a common purpose and then just as suddenly vanish.