Impressions about the book.
The Principe of the evolution according to AlvinToffler
of the new generation
democracy. Minority power.
the shift. Conclusion
Impressions about the book.
the book “The Third Wave” by Alvin Toffler left a very
deep mark in my memory. There are only a few people in the entire
world that have the kind of mind that allows them to look at regular
life differently, analyze it and make assumptions that regular people
wouldn’t even notice. I think that Alvin Toffler is one of
Even though I don’t agree with the author
on some matters, I want to admit that “The Third Wave” is
the book that was written by a man who really cares about the issues
he is exploring and who is also a great expert in his field of study.
Even if I did not know Alvin’s biography, after reading the
book I could assume that exploring human evolution, social issues and
history has always been a goal of his life.
the book tells us about the author’s
seeing the evolution of the human society.
I can imagine how fresh and outstanding seemed his idea of dividing
the flow of human history and development into several phases that he
called “waves” twenty years ago when his book was first
published in 1980. Since that time “The Third Wave” has
been translated into all major languages and became very popular all
over the world.
reading “The Third Wave” I kept asking myself the
question: “What would Alvin change if he wrote this book
nowadays”. I don’t want to judge him for some of his
forecasts that never came true especially because he urged the
readers not to filter out single items, but look at the system in its
of changes have happened since the book first saw the world. World
Wide Web brought a piece of informational freedom into almost every
house, the big empire U.S.S.R collapsed (even Alvin did not believe
in this p. 314), finally, we met the new millenium. We are now much
deeper in the third wave and this Alvin’s work is still popular
and very actual. Moreover, it became a reference frame for the future
research and is being studied in colleges like DeVRY.
Another issue I want to point out here is the
importance of the Alvin Toffler’s work. Even if there were
still some people who do not want to look back and to explore our
history, they would probably want to know what is going to happen to
them tomorrow or after a certain period of time in future. At the
very beginning of the book, in the introductory part, Alvin warns the
readers about expecting any kind of prognosis or predictions
throughout the entire book so it would not look like a Nostrodamus
prophecy or an encyclopedia of the future. He is aware that he does
not have enough information and/or knowledge to make some judgements
and purposely leaves this type of questions wide open for dispute.
The author gives the reader or the future explorer directions, the
basic outlines that should be filled up by them. “Sometimes it
is better to ask the right question rather than to give the right
answer to the wrong one”(6).
Principe of the evolution according to Alvin Toffler
The book consists of two major parts where the
author describes the first two waves that the human society came
through and also the third wave. It is the wave that we are living in
right now. But first, let’s take a look at the whole theory
that Alvin tries to explain in his work.
According to the author, the human evolution is
not stepless but it consists of several stages. So far, the society
has experienced three of them. When there is a coincidence of several
factors, we can witness the shift between the waves. The shifts are
the most painful moments in the human history. Most of the Civil wars
happened at those times. “The Civil war was not fought
exclusively, as it seemed to many, over the moral issue of slavery or
such narrow economic issues as tariffs. It was fought over a much
larger question: would the rich new continent be ruled by farmers or
by industialazers, by the forces of the First Wave or the Second?”
Toffler considers energy dependency to be a fundamental principle of
any civilization. The need for a new kind of energy is one of the
causes of shifting to a new wave. For example, during feudalism
people used horse power or even human power in agriculture or in
construction, which was also considered to be a source of energy.
“The precondition of any civilization, old or new, is energy.
First wave societies drew their energy from “living batteries”
– human and animal muscle-power – or from sun, wind and
water”(25). “As late as the French Revolution, it has
been estimated, Europe drew energy from an estimated 14 million
horses and 24 million oxen”(25).
increase in human population evoked the need for bigger fields and
more buildings, which could no longer be achieved by using the
existing tools. In order to move forward, people needed new tools,
such as tractors, trains, cars etc.
However, the need for a new kind of energy was not a sufficient
condition to make a shift. Many agricultural civilizations like
China, Rome or Greece died and never moved to the next stage. The
need should be backed by developments in science and technology which
manifests the coincidence needed for the civilization shift. A good
example of that was the invention of the steam engine in the 18th
century when the agricultural civilization received a great push that
moved it into the industrial age later.
All other issues, such as technical progress and
even political, economical and social sides of the society are only
the consequences and they are being changed in order to fit the new
reality. “Industrialism was more than smokestacks and assembly
lines. It was a rich, many-sided social system that touched every
aspect of human life and attacked every feature of the First Wave
to the author, the people of the First Wave were the first
civilization that ever existed on the face of the Earth. He does not
deny that people did exist before that, but I did not find any
evidence that he considered those people to be a civilization. In his
book he talks of “civilized” people, those who adopted
the agricultural style of life, and the rest of the population,
people called “primitive”, the ones who could not switch
to the progressive way of living and were left behind in barbaric
world. “During the long millennia when First Wave civilization
reigned supreme, the planet’s population could have divided
into two categories – the “primitive” and the
“civilized”. The so-called primitive peoples, living in
small bands and tribes and subsisting by gathering, hunting, or
fishing, were those had been passed over by the agricultural
distinctive feature of the agricultural society was the
decentralization of power. People still had to live together mostly
in small groups because it was the only way to feed themselves and to
survive. But there was no centralized government over them that would
lead them or try to organize people for bigger projects. Brutal
physical force was used as a method of solving either private or
social conflicts. ”In most agricultural societies the great
majority of people were peasants who huddled together in small,
semi-isolated communities. They lived on a subsistence diet, growing
just barely enough to keep themselves alive and their masters happy”
(37). The trading was developed very poorly and the market itself did
not exist at all. Even though that there was some simple division of
labor and several communities specialized in producing a particular
kind of food or simple labor tools, mostly they just naturally
exchanged their products with the other groups. Money did not exist
in the agricultural era.
As I already mentioned in the basic
principles of the Alvin Toffler’s theory, the social life of
the people is a secondary issue and is subordinated to certain
civilization rules. The agricultural age was a nice example. The
family structure was also preconditioned by the human needs for
survival. Lots of relatives lived at the same place mostly because it
was easier to cultivate land and grow their harvest this way.
The social life of the majority of people
was quite monotonous due to the lack of travelling. An average person
living in agricultural age probably met fewer people during his or
her life than we do in one month or even a week.
The agricultural era was and, probably, will be the
longest in the history of the human society. It took more than a 1500
years for several little currents of the first wave to come together
and form the big stream that wold later grow into the Second Wave.
of shifting into the second wave
I said before there should have been a coincidence of several factors
to come together in order for a civilization to come into the next
stage. After a series of unsuccessful attempts the human society
finally made the move towards its future and started the big clock of
history again. According to Toffler, it happened in the 18th
century (All Second Wave societies began to draw their energy from
coal, gas, and oil – from irreplaceable fossil fuels. This
revolutionary shift, coming after Newcomen invented a workable steam
engine in 1712, meant that for the first time a civilization was
eating into nature’s capital rather than merely living off the
interest it provided”(25).
The future need for new kinds of energy later
conduced to the development in industry and technology. Finally, all
the sides of the human life in the new age were changed in order to
get more efficiency out of new industrial formations such as
manufactories, factories, plants etc. At this stage the civilization
needed entirely new methods of organizing people, totally new
economical and political systems.
Unlike those of the Third Wave, the economical
issues of the Second Wave can be talked about with quite a great deal
of persistency. For almost three hundred years, we have had enough
time to witness and analyze the process that took place and, finally,
formed the economy of the industrial society.
we can definitely say that the main concept that made the industrial
production different from the agricultural one was the division of
labor. Establishment of the first manufactories is considered to be
one of the first steps of transferring into the industrial age. The
further development of the Second Wave economy was preconditioned in
many aspects by this principle.
According to Toffler, there are six basic
fundamentals the economy of any industrialized society stands on:
Standardization, Specialization, Synchronization, Concentration,
Maximization and Centralization. Not getting into details, all of
them meant to optimize the economy of an industrial society by
raising the efficiency of labor, decreasing the production costs,
speeding up the process etc.
main point that proves the accuracy of Toffler’s theory is that
these principles work in any kind of industrialized society whether
it is a capitalistic, socialistic or even the communistic one. With
some margin of error, they could be found in the economics of either
USA, former USSR or China. Countries with absolutely different
history, human nature, traditions or, what is the most important,
different kinds of governance, still had to come through the same
economical cycles as they entered the industrial stage.
economic rules were not the only ones that were developing in a
similar way in different industrialized countries. The political and
the social part of life also obeyed the strict laws of the Second
though the political systems were rather different, they all had one
attribute that differentiated the industrial societies from the
agricultural ones. It was the strong centralization of power that
made possible the establishment of big corporations and, as a result,
the realization of big projects.
The author raises a very interesting issue about
the force that really makes the power decisions and integrates the
whole system in the industrial society. That force was the product of
the narrow specification and expansion of production. The
representatives of that force became managers of all levels. They
were the ones who got between the owners and the workers and made the
thing run when the owner could no longer control the technological
process. ”In the larger firms no individual, including the
owner or dominant shareholder, could even begin to understand the
whole operation. The owner’s decisions were shaped, and
ultimately controlled, by the specialists brought in to coordinate
the system. Thus a new executive elite arose whose power rested no
longer on ownership but rather on control of the integration
According to Toffler, the “executive elite”
is the force that really has control over the industrial society.
Even though the real tools of the industrial production like plants
or factories belong either to capitalists or to the state in
communistic societies, neither the owners, nor the state has the real
power in the Industrialism.
“Executive elite” is the
people who are surfing on the edge of the Second Wave that came with
the Industrialism. Those are the people who really rule and have the
power. They make corrections to the laws through their
representatives in parliament or through their people in the
headquarters of the communist party, they settle and stop wars, they
are in control of destiny of the whole peoples in the industrial age.
should admit that industrial era made our lives much more exiting.
People got an incredible number of opportunities they couldn’t
dream of during the agricultural age. We can travel anywhere in the
world within reasonable amount of time; telephone also made
communication between people much easier; the achievements in
medicine helped us to get rid to many of fatal diseases and have
greatly extended the human life, mass-media made the distribution of
information much easier too. Nevertheless, the industrial era kind of
human beings were still used only as a tool for achieving certain
aims. It was still not considered to be a primary link in the chain
of the human existence.
The chapter where the author asks more questions that provides
answers. Alvin gives the reader the right to decide which answers
will most likely fit the system. Anyone who can answer them will
probably be able to obtain a clear picture of what is going to happen
to us in the near future.
In this chapter I found the most places where I want to argue with
the author. It was not surprising for me because this part of the
book was meant to describe the future structure of the society. Like
I mentioned before, I have been wondering, what would be different in
this book if it were written now, not twenty years ago. On the other
hand, even now we still do not have enough experience to decide
whether Toffler's theory is right.
The need for a new kind of energy and further discovering of
irreplaceable fossil fuels was the reason of shifting into the second
wave. But as we all know, the reserves of fossil fuels are not
endless on the Earth and moreover, with the current consumption rate
we are going to have them for a hundred more years. All this plus the
increasing need for more powerful energy have created the potential
situation for transferring into the next era or “The Third
Wave”. ”In 1973, when the Yom Kippur War broke out and
the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries suddenly stepped
out of the shadows. Choking off the world’s supply of crude
oil, it sent the entire Second Wave economy into a shuddering
I found the author’s opinion about the nuclear energy power
surprising. He considers both nuclear energy and the fossil fuels to
be obsolete, and he is looking for something else in terms of new
era’s energy. “In short, though nuclear reactors or coal
gasification or liquefaction plants and other such technologies may
seem to be advanced or futuristic and therefore progressive, they
are, in fact, artifacts of a Second Wave past caught in its own
In my opinion, deriving energy from nuclear fuel cannot be called
obsolete. On the contrary, this kind of energy is only at the very
first stage of being used by humans. There are still lots of problems
like the poor safety of nuclear reactors or technical impossibility
to create a compact nuclear engine at the current stage, but we
should not forget, that the efficiency of the steam engine was also
very poor and comprised less than 5%!
Of course, new sources of energy will be discovered by human beings
in future, but today the use of nuclear energy is very advanced. I
think that this the Third Wave civilization kind of energy. Moreover,
I tend to think that the beginning of the new era should be
considered in connection with the discovery of nuclear power rather
than with the potential exhaustion of fossil fuels.
In terms of economic and political issues, the author’s
conclusions seem to be pretty clear and logical. New discoveries in
technology contribute to free information flow. Such a great
popularity of the Internet in many countries all over the world is a
very nice proof for Alvin’s ideas about semi-direct democracy
as the political structure of the new society.
There is no doubt that the existing political system will not work
after the shift into the new era. Terrorism became an every-day word
in our language. Big and powerful countries like former U.S.S.R and
now Russia are struggling trying to keep their territory together.
Separatism became a very important problem in many other countries in
all parts of the world. This all indicates that the existing
political system is already obsolete and the governments no longer
keep the situation under control. ”No government, no political
system, no constitution, no charter or state is permanent, nor can
the decisions of the past bind the future forever. Nor can a
government designed for one civilization cope adequately with the
Alvin sees the solution in an absolutely new political system where,
unlike in an industrialized era, the minorities have the power and
form the structure of the society. “The first, heretical
principle of Third Wave government is that of minority power. It
holds that majority rule, the key legitimating principle of the
Second Wave era, is increasingly obsolete. It is not majorities but
minorities that count”419.
Implementing the minority power principle into our life is supposed
to change the whole political system and end up as a new kind of a
democratic society – semi-direct democracy.
Watching the Shift. Conclusion.
If we look back at our history, we can easily notice
that the time during the transition into the Second Wave was the most
violent and brutal. We are now observing another transition, now into
the Post-industrial civilization.
took us less than three hundred years to jump from Second Wave into
post-industrial society which much faster than agricultural
civilization could make it into Industrialism. This could mean not
only acceleration in social development or the technical progress;
the «wave glitch» we are living in may turn out to be a
bigger drama than it used to be three hundred years ago.
of the questions that Alvin did not raise in his book is that the
people themselves could be in control of civilizational changes. All
the achievements in technical, political and technical sciences
should not only be used as a self-developing tool, but people can and
should use that knowledge in order to control the development of
their history. We do not want to think that the civilization we are
entering now is going to be the last one on the face of the Earth.
Our children and the children of our children have the same right to
leave and enjoy their lives as we do now. We are the ones who have to
make sure that the human history will not stop today and the shift
into another era will be completed.