Creating a New Civilization

2 April 95

I just finished reading "Creating a New Civilization - The Politics of the Third Wave" by Alvin and Heidi Toffler.

I just found it in the bookstore last week and I think it just came out.

It has a foreword by Newt Gingrich and he has been waving it in front of the U.S, Congress, insisting that everybody read it, from what I understand, which in itself should be about enough to make it a best seller.

I am not exactly a republican and didn't have any favourable impression of Newt Gingrich, but this forces me to reevaluate my opinion a bit.

This is a quite subversive and revolutionary book, actually, predicting a total change of society as we have known it, and the breakdown of most traditional power structures, to be replaced by something new.

Toffler has written about what he calls the "Third Wave" before, and this is for that matter merely a further elaboration. But it is putting it in a context that makes it hit home very well.

The First Wave was the agricultural society. The Second Wave was the industrial revolution. The Third Wave is the information society.

The Second Wave is symbolized by the factory model. Everything is mass-produced by centralized, hierarchical, bureaucratic institutions.

Most of our known ways of manufacturing things, of education, of finance, and of government, are based on Second Wave principles. We have centralized governments that try to make rules for everything and run things from one place. We send our kids to learning factories where they are all treated the same and spit out as standardized products.

The Third Wave is unavoidably upon us. It is driven in part by the increased speed of everything, the increased inter-connectedness, and vast amounts of information. Information is increasingly becoming more important than physical goods.

Second Wave institutions are failing to keep up with Third Wave society. Governments and centralized mega-corporations and educational institutions and mass-media are largely unable to keep up with the speed things are developing at. And to that degree they are failing.

Third wave is represented by smaller teams, flexibility and ability to change, reduction of overhead, just-in-time principles.

2nd Wave institutions will not voluntarily give up control, even when they are failing to deliver what is needed. There is therefore a struggle between 2nd and 3rd Wave institutions, which 3rd Wave will unescapably win in the end.

In 2nd Wave politics there was the idea of the "majority". If we let the most people choose some representatives and we let them make rules that apply to most people, then things will stay pretty well organized and acceptable.

In the 3rd Wave there is no longer any meaningful "majority". Society is increasingly divided into special interest groups. There is a large number of minorities, rather than one majority. And hardly anybody really like what the governments are doing.

2nd Wave politicians try to undo the change and turn the clock back. If we can just all have good, decent family values and we can protect the production facilities of the country, and we spend more money on education, then everything will be alright.

Mass media are increasingly unable to show what is really going on. They will mostly give the 2nd wave story, showing us what the centralized power figures are doing and saying. But that is no longer what matters the most.

It is no longer possible to uphold the illusion of political parties having clear agendas you can count on. The divisions between political parties, what is left and right and so forth no longer make much sense.

In the former Soviet Union the Communists are now called "conservatives". We can no longer classify things in the usual simplistic ways.

2nd Wave economy was based on finite exhaustible outputs. We were talking about physical goods that took raw materials to make and that had a tangible permanence to them.

Information, which is the life blood of the 3rd wave, doesn't work by the same rules. You can use one piece of information any number of times without depreciating its value. You can not treat it the same as a tangible product from a factory.

The 3rd Wave and the 2nd Wave are colliding right now. That creates a considerable amount of chaos and uncertainty and trauma. But there is no doubt that the 3rd wave will win.

Many people still operate by 2nd wave principles in their own lives. If you expect that you can just get a good secure job, a nice middle-class house and car, send your kids to college, and just settle back and wait for retirement, that ain't gonna work very well anymore.

In the 3rd wave you need to be flexible, ready for change, always learning, developing your abilities, continuously creating your own opportunities. You can not expect that some centralized institution is going to do it for you. You will need to keep up to date with what is going on.

It is of great value to be able to recognize the difference between 2nd and 3rd wave, to know what horse to bet on. Simply put, if it looks like a factory it is 2nd Wave and it is on its way out. If the solutions proposed are about the "masses", if they put all eggs in one basket, if they are vertically, hiearchically controlled, then they are 2nd Wave and they are going to lose out.

3rd Wave solutions are de-centralized, de-massified, diversified, virtual organizations with distributed decision making.

Also, 3rd Wave organization re-empowers the home. The idea of us all driving off to centralized locations to work, be educated, etc, is 2nd wave. The 3rd Wave is more about working and learning where it makes most sense, or where you are most comfortable or productive. There will often be more reason to stay home than to drive off to work.

Anyway, enough said, I recommend reading this book. It is small and easily read.

- Flemming

"Creating a New Civilization" by Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Turner Publishing, ISBN 1-57036-223-8