I don’t want to get bogged down in a theoretical argument about whether the next decade starts at the end of this month or in a year’s time. Technically, I suspect it’s 12 months hence, but I don’t expect that to stand in the way of a deluge of “the world in 2030” prognostications between now and the new year. We love a round number and the fact is that, for most people, the 2020s start here.
It is also the 50th anniversary next year of the publication of a book which had a profound impact on me, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. In 1970, the American futurologist caused a big splash with his predictions about the psychological disorientation he expected to be caused by an unprecedented period of rapid technological change.
He defined Future Shock as the personal perception of “too much change in too short a period of time”, coined the term “information overload” and sold six million copies of his book. Like all futurology, it got the details a bit wrong, but Toffler understood the general direction of travel. He realised that rapid change is stressful for a species whose brains developed in a world that didn’t alter much for millennia at a time until the advent of what he called the industrial and post-industrial eras.
Some of his predictions now seem prescient, if quaintly obvious. He foresaw the growth of transience as workers’ knowledge and skills are rapidly rendered obsolete, and the rise of mass migration. Interestingly, he saw this as a search for work rather than a consequence of climate change, which shows that crystal-ball gazers (including investors) can sometimes get the right answer by asking the wrong question.