post industrial/Interview part 2

Thu May 1 08:27:39 MDT 2003

Norman Swan:    And you predicted the success of cable before in fact it
took off. What was it you saw then that said 'Aha, they're wrong, I'm
right, or I might be right'?

Alvin Toffler:  Well first that if you look at most social science and most
forecasting in say the '50s and '60s and '70s, and even then in some cases,
down to today, the emphasis is always on the more advanced the technology
you have, the more massified the consumption is going to be, and production
is going to be, and people are all going to be the same.

Norman Swan:    And you can make your profit margin higher because you can
cut the cost of production.

Alvin Toffler:  Right. That there are economies of scale in every industry,
and so forth. We, very early on, as early as the mid-1960s, concluded that
that was no longer going to be true; that the new technologies,
particularly computers, moved us, or at least made possible, a movement in
the opposite direction. That the entire push towards uniformity, sameness,
homogeneity, one-size-fits-all, was a reflection of the industrialisation
process, the second wave of change in history. And that something new was
about to happen. And indeed, particularly with the rise of the PC, but we
sensed that earlier, knew that this was going to change.

Norman Swan:    And this was from a belief that human nature, if there is
such a thing, tends towards the diverse and the individual.

Alvin Toffler:  Well we are all different to some degree, and what a mass
society does it imposes very heavy burdens of conformity. Those of your
listeners who are old enough to remember the '50s and '60s, the
intellectual critique of the period was 'We're too conformist, we're too
similar'. Today what do you hear? Today you hear, 'We're fragmented; we're
splintering'. That's all demassification, it's the old industrial
smokestack system breaking into parts and trying to find ways in which
those parts will network with each other and operate together, but in a
totally different, less hierarchal way.

Norman Swan:    Do you have a view on how, because that's one issue we
cover on this program all the time, is fragmentation, and how communities
will develop or redevelop, and the virtual community doesn't seem to be
terribly attractive, at least in the Australian context.

Alvin Toffler:  If a virtual community means people just live off their
computer screen, we certainly don't agree with that, that that's a viable
alternative to human face-to-face interaction. We have a company called
Toffler Associates, which is a virtual company. Our people live in Boston
and in Washington and in Colorado Springs and Berkeley, California, and Los
Angeles, and they interact incredibly frequently with email and the other
communication means, to get the work done, and then they fly around the
country to meet clients and so forth. But we absolutely insist on bringing
everybody together maybe every month, every six weeks, every two months, at
least every two months, to spend a day or two days locked in a room,
face-to-face, talking, brainstorming, finding out and making sure we
understand what everybody is doing and how they inter-relate and so on and
so forth. So I don't believe that we can just live off data flickering
across a screen.

Norman Swan:    So where are the new communities going to come from?

Alvin Toffler:  Well I think that what's happening, I think we're going to
see, and are seeing, the emergence of more and more diverse grouplets,
whether they're organised around some political principle, or they're
organised around some religious view, or they're sort of new age grouplets.
And this doesn't mean people living together in the same community, it
means people who have a common view of the world, and the Internet makes it
possible for you to find other people who share your views 10,000 miles
away. But in the end, that by itself is not adequate. So what we're doing I
think, is layering a new form of community on top of an older form which
does not necessarily go away.

Norman Swan:    Is this why you think, and you often talk about the rise of
religion in the world of science, there's the rise of religion. Is this why
you think it's happening? The creation of a community?

Alvin Toffler:  Yes, let me say that, that I think a good part of the
resurgence of religion in the west is not based on theology or indeed on
religion as such, but it reflects a search for community among millions of
people who feel isolated, alone, alienated, anomic, and so on, and church
frequently offers a place where they can be good people in a safe
environment, and can develop social ties along with religion offering an
explanation of the meaning of life, it offers community as well. And I
think a lot of the people who are signing-up these days, are doing it for
at least mixed motives, or are essentially signing-up for the communal
reasons, and are willing to accept the particular theology that comes with

Norman Swan:    I want to come back to some extent to this theme of
conflict. You described the third-wave earlier in terms of countries. You
talked about Singapore, you talked about the United States. The impression
one gets though, often, is that these things aren't to do with nations any
more at all, that we have third-wave, large corporations, third-wave
organisations which sweep across.

Alvin Toffler:  In fact there are two concepts that we've written about and
spoken about that are important in this connection. One is in a book called
'Power Shift' which we published in 1990, we use the term 'global
gladiators' and we said that there are forces operating globally that are
no longer just nation states, you have indeed 35,000 big multinational
corporations, not just American, indeed not just western. There are even
some from Brazil and some from so-called third world countries, but you
have these, they are major players on the global scene. You have Islam and
the Vatican, major international players and the global politics; and you
have probably 15000 to 25000 NGOs, non-governmental organisations, that are
international or global. These run the gamut from an international sports
federation to the International Association of Plastics Manufacturers, to
political groups. It's the civil society, which is no longer just localised
or national, but now is global in reach, and makes very active use of the
Internet and the new communications media.

Norman Swan:    I was going to pick you up on that, I was going to talk to
you about the civil society. Because the perception out there amongst the
community is that the civil society with this word 'globalisation', whether
it's a fact that nations don't count any more, make you feel that - and
with governments not investing any more in infrastructure and what counts -
that the civil society is actually decreasing, declining.

What we're seeing is as we move towards more market-oriented economics, as
we have moved the application of Reagan and Thatcher economics, has shifted
a lot of money out of welfare programs and community services, and so on.
And the reason for that, in my judgement is, that the welfare systems that
we have had, have not --

Norman Swan:    Have not been customised.

Alvin Toffler:  Exactly. They've not been customised. One-size-fits-all. If
you don't like a product from a company, and you're an individual, you can
not buy that product, you can go to a competitor and buy some other
product; you can find somebody who does customise or brings out a product
closer to your needs. What do you do if you pay the government a large part
of your pay cheque every year, and it produces products that are not
working well, that are at high cost, are not achieving the goals that are
established, what's your recourse? The government is pumping out uniform
services for an increasingly non-uniform population. The problems are
different. You can't treat everybody who doesn't have a job the same, and
as a result you have tax revolts. You have people saying, 'I don't want to
pay my tax' - nobody likes to pay taxes of course, but what you've seen
over the past few years, or a decade or so, is a tremendous hostility, a
feeling that your taxes are not simply being taken, but misused. And I
believe that that's the backbone of the backlash against Reagan-Thatcher

The welfare system was a Rooseveltian necessity. Roosevelt in the United
States and in Britain and Australia I'm sure as well -

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