Books You

The Third Wave
by Alvin Toffler.


"This book.. contends that the world has not swerved into lunacy, and that, in fact, beneath the clatter and jangle of seemingly senseless events there lies a startling and potentially hopeful pattern... The Third Wave is for those who think the human story, far from ending, has only just begun" (Toffler 1980, 1).

Civilization can be divided into three major phases:

1. First Wave:the agricultural revolution
2. Second Wave:the industrial revolution
3. Third Wave:the information age
(just now beginning)

Each wave, or civilization phase, develops its own "super- ideology," or Zeitgeist, with which it explains reality and justifies its own existence. This ideology impacts all the spheres which make up a civilization phase:

"Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognizing it, we are engaged in building a remarkable new civilization from the ground up... What is happening now is nothing less than a global revolution, a quantum jump in history" (Toffler 1980, 10; 12).


"...the agricultural revolution.. took thousands of years to play itself out. [The industrial revolution] took a mere three hundred years. Today history is even more accelerative, and it is likely that the Third Wave will sweep across history and complete itself in a few decades" (Toffler 1980, 10).

A powerful new approach to historical analysis: ""Social Wave-Front Analysis".. looks at history as a sucession of rolling waves of change and asks where the leading edge of each wave is carrying us. It focuses our attention not so much on the continuities of history (important as they are) as on the discontinuities--the innovations and breakpoints. It identifies key change patterns as they emerge, so that we can influence them" (Toffler 1980, 13).

The Waves defined



"Until the industrial revolution, the vast bulk of all the food, goods, and services produced by the human race was consumed by the producers themselves [or] their families" (Toffler 1980, 37).

"Pecuniary transactions were a fringe on a world of natural economy.

"The Second Wave violently changed this situation... it created.. a situation in which the overwhelming bulk of all food, goods, and services was destined for sale, barter, or exchange. It virtually wiped out of existence goods produced for one's own consumption... and created a civilization in which almost no one, not even a farmer, was self-sufficient any longer. Everyone became almost totally dependent upon food, goods, or services produced by somebody else" (Toffler 1980, 39).

The market place moved from a peripheral position to the center of everyone's life. "Most people were sucked into the money system... This explosive expansion of the market contributed to the fastest rise in living standards the world had ever experienced" (Toffler 1980, 40).

"..the obsessive concern with money, goods, and things is a reflection not of capitalism or socialism, but of industrialism. It is a reflection of the central role of the marketplace in ALL societies in which production is divorced from consumption, in which everyone is dependent upon the marketplace rather than on his or her own productive skills for the necessities of life" (Toffler 1980, 41).

"Behavior came to be seen as a set of transactions. Instead of a society based on friendship, kinship, or tribal or feudal allegiance, there arose in the wake of the Second Wave a civilization based on contractual ties, actual or implied. Even husbands and wives today speak of marital contracts.

"The cleavage between these two roles--producer and consumer--created at the same time a dual personality. The very same person who (as a producer) was taught by family, school, and boss to defer gratification, to be disciplined, controlled, restrained, obedient, to be a team player, was simultaneously taught (as a consumer) to seek instant gratification, to be hedonistic rather than calculating, to abandon discipline, to pursue individualistic pleasure--in short, to be a totally different kind of person" (Toffler 1980, 42).

As the Second Wave took over, it demanded that men in particular learn to watch the clock, to obey orders, to remove their personal feelings from the work place--to be "objective." Every operation depended on many men doing the correct thing at the correct time. Personal feelings had nothing to do with the situation.

"This victory of interdependence over self- sufficiency, however, was never fully consummated. In one place the older form of work stubbornly held on. This place was the home.

"Each home remained a decentralized unit engaged in biological reproduction, in child-rearing, and in cultural transmission. If one family failed to reproduce, or did a poor job of rearing its children and preparing them for life in the work system, its failures did not necessarily endanger the accomplishment of those tasks by the family next door...

"The housewife continued, as always, to perform a set of crucial economic functions. She 'produced,'... [but] not for the market...

"Women, prepared from birth for the tasks of reproduction, child-rearing, and household drudgery, performed to a considerable degree in social isolation, were taught to be 'subjective'--were frequently regarded as incapable of the kind of rational, analytic thought that supposedly went with objectivity...

"...the modern 'battle of the sexes' can be traced in large measure to the conflict between two work-styles" (Toffler 1980, 43-45).


"Every civilization has a hidden code--a set of rules or principles that run through all its activities... As industrialism pushed across the planet, its unique hidden design became visible. It consisted of a set of six interrelated principles that programmed the behavior of millions. Growing naturally out of the divorce of production and consumption, these principles affected every aspect of life from sex and sports to work and war" (Toffler 1980, 46).

1. Standardization

Usually associated with mass production, few people notice that we have applied this principle to almost every aspect of life: standardized tests, mass education, pay scales, lunch hours, holidays, mass media, weights and measures, currency, prices (as opposed to negotiation), language, leisure activities, lifestyle.

2. Specialization

The "jack-of-all-trades" was replaced with the specialist.

"[Adam] Smith, in a classic passage, described the manufacture of a pin. A single old-style workman, performing all the necessary operations by himself, he wrote, could turn out only a handful of pins each day--no more than twenty and perhaps not even one. By contrast, Smith described a 'manufactory' he had visited in which the eighteen different operations required to make a pin were carried out by ten specialized workers, each performing only one or a few steps. Together they were able to produce more than forty-eight thousand pins per day--over forty-eight hundred per worker" (Toffler 1980, 49).

Specialization brought the emergence of the professions. "Whenever the opportunity arose for some group of specialists to monopolize esoteric knowledge and keep newcomers out of their field, professions emerged... Thus, health in Second Wave societies came to be seen as a product provided by a doctor and a health-delivery bureaucracy, rather than a result of intelligent self-care by the patient. Education was supposedly 'produced' by the teacher" (Toffler 1980, 50).

".. Lenin argued that the masses could not bring about a revolution without professional help. What was needed, he asserted, was an 'organization of revolutionaries' limited in membership to 'people whose profession is that of a revolutionary" (Toffler 1980, 51).

3. Synchronization

Second Wave people dealt with time differently. "In a market-dependent system... time equals money. Expensive machines cannot be allowed to sit idly... the high cost of machinery and the close interdependence of labor required a much more refined synchronization.

"If one group of workers in a plant was late in completing a task, others down the line would be further delayed. Thus punctuality, never very important in agricultural communities, became a social necessity, and clocks and watches began to proliferate" (Toffler 1980, 51-2).

"Not by coincidence, children in industrial cultures were taught to tell time at an early age" (Toffler 1980, 52).

" life, too, became clock-driven and adapted to machine requirements. Certain hours were set aside for leisure. Standard-length vacations, holidays, or coffee breaks were interspersed with the work schedules...

"...chiefly men became the most conditioned to clock- time... Women, primarily engaged in noninterdependent housework, worked to less mechanical rhythms... Second Wave husbands continually complained that their wives kept them wiating, that they had nor regard for time, that it took them forever to dress, that they were always late for appointments" (Toffler 1980, 52).

"For similar reasons urban populations tended to look down upon rural folk as slow and unreliable" (Toffler 1980, 52).

4. Concentration of energy, money, and power.

We became "almost totally dependent on highly concentrated deposits of fossil fuel.

"[The Second Wave].. also concentrated population, stripping the countryside of people and relocating them in giant urban centers"(Toffler 1980, 53).

Work was concentrated in the factory.

The poor were concentrated in ghettoes. (In First Wave societies the poor live with relatives.)

Criminals were concentrated in jails. (In First Wave societies, "criminals are fined, whipped, or banished from one settlement to another.")

The insane were concentrated in assylums. (In First Wave societies, the insane stayed with their families, or were supported by the community.)

The education of children was concentrated in schools. (In First Wave societies, children are educated in the home, and then by tutors living with the family, or by the local clergyman.)

"The early nineteenth century, in fact, has been called THE TIME OF THE GREAT INCARCERATIONS--when criminals were rounded up and concentrated in prisons, the mentally ill rounded up and concentrated in 'lunatic assylums', and children rounded up and concentrated in schools, exactly as workers were concentrated in factories" (Toffler 1980, 53).

Concentration has continued to operate as the Second Wave has become stronger. There are only three major auto companies in the U.S. Two Japanese firms produce all the VCR's in the world. In each area of production--aluminum, beer, cigarettes, breakfast foods, etc.--three to five companies produce almost all of it.

5. Maximization

The Second Wave created in us an "infatuation with bigness and growth... 'Big' became synonymous with 'efficient'" (Toffler 1980, 54).

The workers and managers of Matsushita Electric Company in Japan, chant this song every morning when they exercise together:

"...Doing our best to promote production, Sending our goods to the people of the world, Endlessly and continuously, Like water gushing from a fountain. Grow, industry, Grow, Grow, Grow! Harmony and sincerity! Matsushita Electric!" (Toffler 1980, 55).

By 1960, the fifty largest corporations in the United States employed an average of 80,000 workers each.

By 1970, AT&T, by itself, employed 956,000 people. "This meant, at an average household size of 3.3, that well over [three million] people were dependent upon paychecks from this one company alone" (Toffler 1980, 55).

"Stalin pushed even harder for maximum scale and built vast new projects--the steel complex at Magnitogorsk, anoth at Zaporozhstal, the Balkhash copper smelting plant, the tractor plants at Kharkov and Stalingrad. He would ask how large a given American installation was, then order construction of an even larger one" (Toffler 1980, 56).

6. Centralization

In Business

"The early railroads provide a classic illustration. Compared with other businesses they were the giants of their day. In the United States in 1850 only forty-one factories had a capitalization of $250,000 or more. By contrast, the New York Central Railroad as early as 1860 boasted a capitalization of $30,000,000. To run such a gargantuan enterprise, new management methods were needed.

"The early railroad managers, therefore, like the managers of the space program in our own era, had to invent new techniques. They standardized technologies, fares, and schedules. They synchronized operations over hundreds of miles. They created specialized new occupations and departments. They concentrated capital, energy, and people. They fought to maximize the scale of their networks. And to accomplish all this they created new forms of organization based on centralization of information and command" (Toffler 1980, 57).

"...centralized management came to be regarded as an advanced, sophisticated tool in all the Second Wave nations.

In Politics

"In politics, too, the Second Wave encouraged centralization. In the United States, as early as the late 1780's, this was illustrated by the battle to replace the loose, decentralist Articles of Confederation with a more centralist Constitution" (Toffler 1980, 57).

In the Economy

The CENTRAL BANK was a crucial invention. It facilitated the central control of money and credit.

(The Bank of England, le Banque de France, the Reichsbank, the Federal Reserve System in the U.S.)

NB: All these principles, together, led to the rise of Bureaucracy.


1. Managers/administrators -- they integrate all the specializations; they link all the parts of the system.

2. Big government -- "the biggest coordinator of all" (64). Through coercive powers and tax revenues, big government accelerated the second wave's implementation.

3. Leading business men and lawyers on civic committees and boards -- An informal power pyramid which facilitated second wave systems.

4. Investment moguls -- At the top of the power pyramid, their investments create the parameters for all other activities.

NB: "Today, as the Third Wave of change begins to batter at this fortress of managerial power, the first fleeting cracks are appearing in the power system. Demands for participation in management, for shared decision-making, for worker, consumer, and citizen control, and for anticipatory democracy are welling up in nation after nation. New ways of organizing along less hierarchical and more ad-hocratic lines are springing up in the most advanced industries. And managers become more and more dependent upon information from below. Elites themselves, therefore, are becoming less permanent and secure. All these are merely early warnings-- indications of the coming upheaval in the political system.

"The Third Wave, already beginning to batter at these industrial structures, opens fantastic opportunities for social and political renovation. In the years just ahead startling new institutions will replace our unworkable, oppressive, and obsolete integrational structures" (67-8).


On the surface the political systems of different countries look unique. Underneath, their structures are the same.

Land is central to every system (a holdover from the First Wave). All elections are based on a geographic division, not on social class, occupation, or ethnic group.

The factory model of every component depending on the performance of other components required the suppression of localism and the encouragement of a national and international consciousness.

The idea of representation is also central -- a holdover from the First Wave perception that most people are rural farmers and don't have the education or brains to govern themselves, but rather need to be represented by one of the educated elite.

In every country, there is a universal set of components:

  1. Individuals armed with the vote.
  2. Parties for collecting the votes.
  3. Candidates who, when they win, become representatives of the voters.
  4. Legislatures (parliaments, diets, assemblies) in which representative manufacture laws by voting.
  5. Executives (presidents, prime ministers, party secretaries) who feed policies into the lawmaking machine, and then enforce the resulting laws.

This same structure was recreated at the state, county, and local level, creating a hierarchical structure which is all tied together.

This "law factory" is used by those in power to manipulate the global system... ELECTIONS are a "reassurance ritual" which "take the steam out of protests from below" (76).

NB: "In this system, representative government was the political equivalent of the factory... Like most factories it was managed from above. And like most factories, it is now increasingly obsolete, a victim of the advancing Third Wave" (78).


"Second Wave civilization could not exist... [without] the hidden subsidy of cheap resources" from First Wave countries. Hence:

"...Grand imperialism paid off handsomely. As the economic historian William Woodruff put it: 'It was the exploitation of these territories and the growing trade done with them that obtained for the European family wealth on a scale never seen before.' Built deep into the very structure of the Second Wave economy, feeding its ravenous need for resources, imperialism marched across the planet.

"In 1492 when Columbus first set foot in the New World, Europeans controlled only 9 percent of the globe. By 1801 they ruled a third. By 1880, two thirds. And by 1935 Europeans politically controlled 85 percent of the land surface of the earth and 70 percent of its population." (90-91).

At the end of the Second World War, the United States gained economic control of much of the world by the creation of three institutions:

  1. International Monetary Fund (IMF)--compelled its member nations to peg their currency to the American dollar or to gold (most of which was held by the U.S.).

  2. The World Bank--provided funds to rebuild after the war, and also to build further infrastructure in third-world countries for the more efficient mvement of raw materials to Second Wave nations.

  3. General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)--liberalized trade, making it difficult for the poorer, less technologically advanced countries, to protect their tiny fledgling industries.

Summary: "..the economic growth of the Second Wave nations would in all probability have been stunted.. without the concealed subsidies made possible by imperialism... Second Wave Civilization might well be today where it was in 1920 or 1930" (97).

NB: "...rampant industrialism was more than an economic, political, or social system. It was also a way of life and a way of thinking. It produced a Second Wave mentality... This mentality stands today as a key obstacle to the creation of a workable Third Wave civilization" (97).


"..the Second Wave brought with it a redefinition of God... of justice... of love... of power... of beauty. It stirred up new ideas, attitudes, and analogies. It subverted and superseded ancient assumptions about time, space, matter, and causality. A powerful, coherent world view emerged that not only explained but justified Second Wave reality" (98).

The world seems to be divided into left-wing and right-wing advocates, totalitarian regimes and democracies, people in every circumstance divided into two or more ideological camps.

"What few noticed, however, in the heat of this propaganda war, was that while each side promoted a different ideology, both were essentially hawking the same superideology" -- a version of reality, of overarching ideas and assumptions, taught to all children of industrialism so that they might understand their world. This world view was based on three deeply intertwined beliefs:

  1. Nature is an object waiting to be exploited. (Earlier cultures accepted poverty as a part of the harmony of mankind with the surrounding ecology.)

  2. Humans are not merely in charge of nature, they are the pinnacle of a long process of evolution, of natural selection... "Social Darwinism." (a rationalization for imperialism).

  3. The progress principle -- the idea that history flows irreversibly toward a better life for humanity. This was the common theme of Leibniz, Turgot, Condorcet, Kant, Lessing, John Stuart Mill, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, and countless lesser thinkers.. They argued over the details... but they all nodded in agreement at the notion of progress itself (102).


These underlying beliefs, taught to children of industrialization, led to the following patterns of behavior:

"Second Wave civilization did more than cut time up into more precise and standard chunks. It also placed these chunks in a straight line that extended indefinitely back into the past and forward into the future. It made time linear.

"Indeed, the assumption that time is linelike is so deeply embedded in our thoughts that it is hard for htose of us raised in Second Wave societies to conceive of any alternative. Yet many preindustrial societies, and some First Wave societies even today, see time as a circle, not a straight line. From the Mayas to the Buddhists and the Hindus, time was circular and repetitive, history repeating itself endlessly, lives perhaps reliving themselves through reincarnation.... The notion of circular time is found in Plato and Aristotle... It was taught by Pythagoras." (104).

"..a universe that had seemed complex, cluttered, unpredictable, richly crowded, mysterious, and messy, began to look neat and tidy" (113).

"This new causality, combined with the new images of time, space, and matter, liberated much of the human race from the tyranny of ancient mumbo jumbo... but [it] also created its own new prison, an industrial mentality that derogated or ignored what it could not quantify, that frequently praised critical rigor and punished imagination, that reduced people to oversimplified protoplasmic units, that ultimately sought an engineering solution for any problem" (114).



NB: "Once we think in terms of successive waves of interrelated change, of the collision of these waves, we grasp the essential fact of our generation--that industialism is dying away--and we can begin searching among signs of change for what is truly new, what is no longer industrial. We can identify the Third Wave.

"It is this Third Wave of change that will frame the rest of our lives. If we are to smooth the transition between the old dying civilization and the new on that is taking form, if we are to maintain a sense of self and the ability to manage our own lives through the intensifying crises that lie ahead, we must be able to recognize--and create--Third Wave innovations" (124).


To see the new, emerging, patterns we must resist two powerful Second Wave forms of thinking:
  1. Analysis. We cannot see the future in the same way we solve problems--by dismantling problems into their component parts. We must practice, instead, synthesis.

  2. Linearity. We must resist the temptation to be seduced by straight lines. Tomorrow will not be just an extension of today. Trends, no matter how powerful, do not continue in a straight line.

The new technologies of the Third Wave will bring: This change will driven by two factors:

"..four clusters of related industries are poised for major growth and are likely to become the backbone industries of the Third Wave:

  1. Electronics and computers...

    According to Computerworld magazine, "If the auto industry had done what the computer industry has done in the last 30 years, a Rolls-Royce would cost $2.50 and get 2,000,000 miles to the gallon."

    A "radically accelerated.. energy crisis... [will] carry us toward processes and products that are miserly in their energy requirements" (141).

  2. The space industry...

    "Despite delays, five space shuttles may soon be moving cargo and people back and forth between the earth and outer space on a weekly schedule. The impact of this is as yet underestimated by the public, but many companies in the United States and Europe regard the "high frontier" as the source of the next revolution in high technology and are acting accordingly" (142).

    Many high tech materials require delicate handling... SPACE MANUFACTURING is a hot topic among scientists, engineers, and high tech executives. "McDonnell Douglas offers to pharmaceutical companies a space shuttle device that will separate rare enzymes from human cells. Glass manufacturers are looking at ways of making materials for lasers and fiber optics in space. Space-produced single-crystal semiconductors make earth-made models seem primitive. Urokinase, a blood clot dissolver needed for patients suffering from certain forms of blood disease, now costs $2,500 per dose. According to Jesco von Puttkamer, chief of space industrialization studies for NASA, it could be manufactured in space for less than one fifth that amount...

    More important are the totally new products that simply cannot be made on earth at virtually any price. TRW, an aerospace and electronics company, has identified four hundred different alloys that we cannot manufacture on earth because of the pull of gravity. General Electric, meanwhile, has begun the design of a space furnace.

  3. Pushing into the depths of the sea...

    The mirror image of our drive into space... "The first historic wave of social change on earth came when our ancestors ceased to rely on foraging and hunting, and began instead to domesticate animals and cultivate the soil. We are now at precisely this stage in our relationship to the seas." (143).

    Probably the biggest future of them all. Information on genetics is doubling every two years.

    Lord Ritchie-Calder explains that "Just as we have manipulated plastics and metals, we are now manufacturing living materials."

    Major companies--Eli Lilly, HOffmann-La Roche, G.D. Searle, Upjohn, Merck--"dream of placing enzymes in the automobile to monitor exhaust and send data on pollution to a microprocesor that will then adjust the engine. They speak of what The New York Times calls 'metal-hungry microbes that might be used to mine valuable trace metals from ocean water'" (146).

    Some other ideas being discussed:

  4. De-massification of the media

    As the quantity of information available to people expands, they become less and less able to cope with it. People fall back to paying attention to only what is important to them.

    Hence we see the loss of readership of newspapers and mass magazines, and the loss of viewers of the large, generic television channels. Instead, we see a rise in the number of specialty channels appealing to narrow segments of the population. Likewise, mini-circulation specialty weekly newsletters and magazines are explosively increasing.

    The new media is not "mass"; instead it is specialized, aimed at small, special-interest, regional, or even local markets. Cable systems are being designed for two-way communication for even more refined customization.

    "All these different developments have one thing in common: they slice the mass television public into segments, and each slice not only increases our cultural diversity, it cuts deeply into the power of the networks that have until now so completely dominated our imagery" (164).

    "The Third Wave thus begins a truly new era--the age of the de-massified media. A new info-sphere is emerging along-side the new techno-sphere. And this will have a far-reaching impact on the most important sphere of all, the one inside our skulls. For taken together, these changes revolutionize our images of the world and our ability to make sense of it" (165).

    One problem this trend presents is that fewer and fewer people seek the larger picture. The over-supply of information has caused them to settle for "blips" of information, which they then attempt to string together in a sensible manner to account for changes in their environment.

  5. An intelligent environment.

    Home computers (PC's) are facilitating electronic communities (The Source, Internet, listservs).

    Microprocessors allow the automation of our entire environment.

    "Imagine, you're at work, the phone rings. It's Fred, your house. While monitoring the morning news reports for stories of recent burglaries, Fred picked up a weather bulletin warning of pending heavy rain. This jogged Fred's bubble memories to run a routine roof maintenance check. A potential leak was found. Before calling you, Fred phoned Slim for advice. Slim is a ranchstyle home down the block... Fred and Slim often shared data bankcs and each knew they were programmed with an effective search technique for identifying household services... You've learned to trust Fred's judgment, and approve the repairs. The rest is rather straight forward, Fred calls the roofer..."(171).

    In another direction, Peter Ritner, in the Society of Space, wrote of what he called 'weave problems.' "He warned that we would increasingly face crises that were 'not susceptible to 'cause and effect analysis' but would require 'mutual dependence analysis'; not composed of easily detachable elements but of hundreds of cooperating influences from dozens of independent, overlapping sources.'

    "Because it can remember and interrelate large numbers of causal forces, the computer can help us cope with such problems at a deeper than customary level. It can sift vast masses of data to find subtle patterns. It can help assemble "blips" into larger, more meaningful wholes. Given a set of assumption, or a model, it can trace out the consequences of alternative decisions, and do it more systematically and completely than any individual normally could. It can even suggest imaginative solutions to certain problems by identifying novel or hitherto unnoticed relationships among people and resources." (174)

    It could be one antidote to blip culture.

    "At the same time, the intelligent environment may eventually begin to change not merely the way we analyze problems and integrate information, but even the chemistry of our brains. Experiments by David Krech, Marian Diamond, Mark Rosenzweig, and Edward Bennett, among others, have shown that animals exposed to an "enriched" environment have larger cerebral cortices, more glial cells, bigger neurons, more active neurotransmitters, and larger blood supplies to the brain than animals in a control group. Can it be that, as we complexify the environment and make it more intelligent, we shall make ourselves more intelligent as well?" (175)

  6. A new social memory...

    "Our remarkable ability to file and retrieve shared memories is the secret of our species' evolutionary success. And anything that significantly alters the way we construct, store, or use social memory therefor touches on the very wellsprings of destiny" (176).

    "Twice before in history humankind has revolutionized its social memory. Today, in constructing a new info-sphere, we are poised on the brink of another such transformation" (176).

    Originally human groups stored their shared memories in the minds of individuals (like Homer, tribal elders, wise men, etc.).

    The Second Wave smashed the memory barrier by spreading mass literacy. Now systematic records could be kept. Libraries and museums were built. "By increasing the store of cumulative knowledge, it accelerated all the processes of innovation and social change" (176).

    Today we are about to make another quantum leap. With massive files of information on mainframes, with a PC in almost every person's hands, we are recording the activities of the civilization in fine-grain detail, and we have random access to the records. "..we shall before long have the closest thing to a civilization with total recall" (177).

  7. Development of the "electronic cottage"

    Mass production, like mass media, is nearly obsolete and on the way out. "..while 'the less highly developed countries-- [those] with a GNP of between U.S. $1000-2000 per capita per annum--concentrate on mass produced manufacturers' the 'most highly developed countries.. concentrate on the export of one- off and short-run manufactured goods depending on highly skilled labour and.. high research costs: computers, specialised machinery, aircraft, automated production systems, high technology paints, pharmaceutical products, high technology polymers and plastics'" (182).

    "The step beyond this, of course, is complete customization-- the actual manufacture of one-of-a-kind products. And that is clearly the direction in which we are heading: products custom-cut for individual users" (183).

    "The shift toward customization is perhaps best symbolized by a computer-based laser gun introduced a few years ago into the clothing industry... [it] operates on a radically different principle. It does not cut 10 or 50 or 100 or even 500 shirts or jackets at a time. It cuts one at a time. But it actually cuts faster and cheaper than the mass-production methods employed until now. It reduces waste and eliminates the need for inventory. For these reasons, according to the president of Genesco, one of the largest manufacturers of apparel in the United States, 'The laser machines can be programmed to fill an order for one garment economically.' What that suggests is that some day even standard sizes may disappear. It may be possible to read one's measurements into a telephone, or point a video camera at oneself, thus feeding data directly into the computer, which in turn will instruct the machine to produce a single garment, cut exactly to one's personal, individualized dimensions." (184).

    But there is a logical step beyond this. "Hidden inside our advance to a new production system is a potential for social change so breathtaking in scope that few among us have been willing to face its meaning... Apart from encouraging smaller work units, apart from permitting a decentralization and de- urbanization of production, apart from altering the actual character of work, the new production system could shift literally millions of jobs out of the factories and office into which the Second Wave swept them and right back where they came from originally: the home. If this were to happen, every institution we know, from the family to the school and the corporation, would be transformed" (194).

    There are many reasons why people would not want to move back to their own homes to work.... "Yet there were equally, if not more, compelling reasons three hundred years ago to believe people would never move out of the home and field to work in factories. After all, they had labored in their own cottages and the nearby land for 10,000 years, not a mere 300. The entire structure of family life, the process of child-rearing and personality formation, the whole system of property and power, the culture, the daily struggle for existence were all bound to the hearth and the soil... yet these chains were slashed in short order as soon as a new system of production appearedl... Today that is happening again" (195).

    There is already an appreciable amount of work being done at people's homes: salesmen, architects, designers, consultants, therapists, psychologists, music teachers, language instructors, art dealers, investment counselors, insurance agents, lawyers, academic researchers, and many other professional and technical people.

    "These are, moreover, among the most rapidly expanding work classifications" (197). The addition of PC's, FAX machines, networks on telephone lines, the information highway, teleconferencing, etc., the number of people capable of working from home increases dramatically.

    Consider the cost incentives to companies. Commuting, which they indirectly subsidize, runs an average of 29 times as much as the installation of telecommunication equipment in a person's home. In addition, huge savings in real estate costs, capital building investments, and building maintenance can be had. Staying at home will also reduce pollution, and the cost of cleaning it up.

    On the home side, as shorter work weeks become common, "the higher ratio of commuting time to working time [becomes] more irrational, frustrating, and absurd" (203). In addition, shared work has traditionally helped to bind families together. "..when campaigners for familylife discover the possibilities inherent in the transfer of work to the home we may well see a rising demand for political measures to speed up the process--tax incentives, for example, and new conceptions of workers' rights" (203).

  8. The home-centered society

    As the electronic cottage spreads, a chain of consequences will occur in society:

  9. Families will become non-nuclear.

    Many say the family is falling apart today. They define the family as a husband-breadwinner, mother-housekeeper, and a numebr of children. This is the "nuclear family" which was created and idealized by the Second Wave. It is falling apart, because the Second Wave industrial complex system is falling apart.

    If we really want to maintain the nuclear family, here's what we would have to do:

    What we are currently witnessing is the demise of the nuclear family and the emergence in its place of a diversity of family forms.

    In the First Wave, we looked for mates who were strong enough to help make a living on a farm. In the Second Wave, we came to look for a mate we loved--companionship, sex, warmth, and support.

    In the Third Wave, working in the electronic cottage, we may look for LOVE PLUS -- sexual and psychological gratification PLUS brains. In the future, John Denver may sing:

    I love your eyes, your cherry lips,
    the love that always lingers,
    your way with words and random blips,
    your skilled computer fingers. (219)

    Children, in the electronic cottage, may return to the work force, both helping the family and expanding their education.

    "In fact, integrating young people into work in the electronic cottage may offer the only real solution to the problems of high youth unemployment. This problem will grow increasingly explosive in many countries in the years ahead, with all the attendant evils of juvenile crime, violence, and psychological immiseration, and cannot be solved within the framework of a Second Wave economy except by totalitarian means--drafting young people, for example, for war or forced service" (220).

    "..we need to begin removing the unwarranted guilt that accompanies the breakup and restructuring of families... The decision to live outside a nuclear family framework should be made easier, not harder... Instead of exacerbating unjustified guilt, the media, the church, the courts, and the political system should be working to lower the guilt level" (224).

  10. Radically changed corporations.

    "The big corporation was the characteristic business organization of the industrial era" (226). Just like families, the mass media, and schools, corporations are facing drastic changes:

  11. New code of behavior

  12. Rise of the Prosumer

  13. Radically changed schools.

    (see separate notes on homeschooling)

  14. Breakup of the nation state.

"Many countries.. are feeling the simultaneous impact of two, even three, quite different waves of change, all moving at different rates of speed and with different degrees of force behind them" (Toffler 1980, 14).

" our personal lives and in our political acts, whether we know it or not, most of us in the rich countries are essentially either Second Wave people committed to maintaining the dying order, Third Wave people constructing a radically different tomorrow, or a confused, self-canceling mixture of the two" (Toffler 1980, 16).

"Once we realize that a bitter struggle is now raging between those who seek to preserve industrialism and those who seek to supplant it, we have a powerful new key to understanding the world" (Toffler 1980, 18).


"...Second Wave forces are those who favor the old, mindless approach to technology: 'If it works, produce it. If it sells, produce it'" (151).

There is also "a small, vocal fringe of romantic extremists hostile to all but the most primitive First Wave technologies, who seem to favor a return to medieval crafts and hand labor" (151).

"Ranged against both these extremes is an increasing number of people in every country who form the core of the techno- rebellion... agents of the Third Wave. They begin not with technology but with hard questions about what kind of future society we want" (152). Their guiding principles are as follows:



Underlying cause:


Ex. 1 -- Our view of nature.

Ex. 2 -- Our view of evolution

Ex. 3 -- Our view of time

Ex. 4 -- The systems approach

  • Explain systems thinking -- origin at NASA -- how to fire a rocket.

  • Contrast this to the Cartesian approach -- take all the components apart and inspect them individually.

  • Other terms for this approach:


    "For Third Wave civilization, the most basic raw material of all--and on that can never be exhausted--is information... With information becoming more important than ever before, the new civilization will restructure education, redefine scientific research and, above all, reorganize the media of communication... Instead of being culturally dominated by a few mass media, Third Wave civilization will rest on inter- active, de-massified media, feeding extremely diverse and often highly personalized imagery into and out of the mind- stream of the society.

    "The giant centralized computer with its whirring tapes and complex cooling systems--where it still exists--will be supplemented by myriad chips of intelligence, embedded in one form or another in every home, hospital, and hotel, every vehicle, and appliance, virtually every building-brick. The electronic environment will literally converse with us" (352).

    "To operate these factories and offices of the future, Third Wave companies will need workers capable of discretion and resourcefulness rather than rote responses. To prepare such employees, schools will increasingly shift away from present methods still largely geared to producing Second Wave workers for highly repetitive work" (353).


    --Outline of Third Wave--

    The Third Wave--the new synthesis

    Last updated on: January 1, 1970 GMT
    by Colby Glass, MLIS.

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