(TECH) FUTURE SHOCK

By Jug Varner

In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote the best seller, Future Shock. Among other things, it is about “what happens to people when they are overcome by change…a current so powerful today that it overturns institutions, shifts our values, and shrivels our roots,” as he wrote in the introduction.

Back then, it seemed only partially believable science fiction to me — but with 30+ years hindsight, many of Toffler’s concepts have proved to be factual. The pages are falling out of my paperback copy (15th edition, 1971) as I am reading Future Shock again, and it is even more intriguing the second time around.

My first computer, circa 1980, was an IBM with a 13” monochrome monitor and a clattering pinwheel printer. Would the $6,000 price tag be worth it? I didn’t know, but I bit the bullet and succumbed to the limited options available. The salesman at Austin’s Computerland store forgot to mention that, in two weeks, they would have IBM’s first color monitor, and at a slightly lower price. Caveat emptor then —but my zillion-gig bells and whistles model of today gives me instant comparative prices from an unlimited number of suppliers worldwide.

The part in the book about a “throw away society” has certainly come true. While national waste disposal moguls battle environmentalists — about where next to hide the mountains of computer parts, electronic gadgetry, plastic throwaways that will last 10,000 years, and all the boxes they came in —a newer, speedier, and better product becomes obsolete before we get it out of the store. Meanwhile, we throw its packaging in our recycling bin for trash pick-up, and try to figure out where to donate our old model that was perfectly okay until the devil made us buy “the latest thing.”

Typical of Toffler’s theme, our current “latest things” are nothing compared to what they will be in the near future. Researchers at several universities and computer corporations are now working on a molecular computer circuitry that could be equal to the next generation of silicon based chips, but a thousand times smaller and less expensive. Imagine, if you can, this and other such nanotechnology resulting in computers small enough to be worn or embedded in materials, and, yes, even injected into the bloodstream as diagnostic sensors.

Of course, given the fact that the human species may never learn to get along with one another, this same nanotechnology may foster weapons that will blow modern society to kingdom come…leading one to wonder just how long the future may be…in “shock” or otherwise. Nevertheless, I’d like to be around to see all the unbelievable products science and industry will develop at an ever-increasing pace in the tomorrows of time —just as Toffler imagined.

Like the title of an old cartoon I read as a kid, I must have been “Born Thirty Years Too Soon.”