Three Waves of Alvin Toffler. The Basic Points

The distinctive feature of the agricultural society was the decentralization of power. People still had to live together mostly in

Three Waves of Alvin Toffler. The Basic Points



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I.Introduction. Impressions about the book.

Reading 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 wouldnt even notice. I think that Alvin Toffler is one of these people.

Even though I dont 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 Alvins biography, after reading the book I could assume that exploring human evolution, social issues and history has always been a goal of his life.

Basically, the book tells us about the authors 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.

While reading “The Third Wave” I kept asking myself the question: “What would Alvin change if he wrote this book nowadays”. I dont 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 entirety.

Lots 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 Alvins 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 Tofflers 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).


II.The 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, lets 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?” (23)

Alvin 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).

The 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 past” (22).



  1. First two waves.


  1. First wave.

According 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 planets 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 revolution”(21).

The 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 Tofflers 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.



  1. Second Wave

Causes of shifting into the second wave


Like 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 natures 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,

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