166 Comments

Interesting, but I wonder if a lot of your critique would be resolved by looking at other meanings of the word, "shock." You seem to limit yourself to something being "shocking," whereas I've always interpreted "Future Shock" to be more akin to "being in shock," which aligns quite well with the numbness you decry. A state of shock is triggered by events too sudden and overwhelming to process: a car accident, a bomb going off, a sudden death of a loved one. I think a good bit of our numbness is due to being oversaturated with immediate news from all over the world (no need to wait for Walter Cronkite to tell it "the way it is" at 6pm), assurances of impending doom (melting ice caps, extinction of pollinators, aquifers running dry, lunatics and fools being elected). We are in a state of future shock because too much is going too wrong too quickly, leading many of us to wonder if there's any future at all.

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Trauma is indeed numbing. We’re all traumatized in one way or another. As Gabor Mate writes about brilliantly, we all suffer either little Ts repeatedly, or big Ts that crush us. One could clearly call that “shock”

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Agreed... our response is one of trauma. I think of the simplified definition of trauma as “too much, too soon, too fast” and that’s exactly what we’re experiencing. Technological change is causing a sort of collective trauma and the response we see culturally reflects that-- clinging to the safe and familiar.

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I agree with you Dee - really good point! The trauma is passed down from generation to generation. Since we're unaware of how this trauma resonance is collectively affecting us, it opens us up to be vulnerable to leaders tell us it's "them" that's causing our anxiety and pain. Then our minds have something to chew on, someone to blame. It's an unsettling thing to watch in our collective consciousness.

The best we can do for each other (because we're all connected), is to do our own healing. So we can begin to be there for each other.

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I agree numbing yourself to an excess change sounds like a shock response, as staying still in a life threatening situation.

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Exactly ty Chris.

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Plenty of future left for us all Mr Ryan.. plenty. Very good post though. Think his shock point disagreement was one of underwhelming data and content rather than over .

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That wasn't my reading of it.

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May 28, 2023Liked by Ted Gioia

“We are all just prisoners here of our own device.” - Eagles, ‘Hotel California’

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Who knew that the verb would become the noun in the form of a little rectangle held in your hand?

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May 28, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

This is a rare case where I mostly don't agree with Ted. The psychological reactions to shock are precisely those he describes: numbness, denial, anger, physical symptoms, inability to express emotions, etc. The amount of information (let alone garbage-y data) is growing exponentially, and so is the speed at which big innovations are coming. Computers in the 50s, PCs in the 80s, Web in the 90s, AI now - the gaps between big changes are shrinking, as the book "Scale" by Geoffrey West shows convincingly. The need to narrow one's horizons, go "comfortably numb", etc., aren't happening on their own. So I wouldn't argue for "more change" as much as for better change, "centered on the areas of greatest numbness and disconnectedness," as Ted put it.

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"..people don’t think about much of anything at all, because technology turns them into passive receptors."

Hence my comment on your recent post about a conversation with a bot. The cat killed curiosity. The word for this age is simulacra. We deal all the time with copies of copies of what was once real.

Pop pundits come and go. I remember Future Shock and I think I read it. Along with Chariots of the Gods, The Hidden Pursuaders, The Gutenberg Galaxy, and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. You too are a child of the universe and Donovan.

Most of it is down to the painful obligation to churn out product but it always has a ring of truth, sufficient to make me go out and buy the book. And literally everybody is talking about it.

Discernment is the product of a liberal education. I mean that in the sense that Cardinal Newman meant a liberal education. Without being taught how to learn we are truly farked.

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A much older, and yet much more prescient, anticipation of 21st-century culture is 1909's "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster (yes, really). See more at:

https://medium.com/p/c9c2da3aa691

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Thanks kindly for the link, John. Good article, and it led me to find Forster's book which I'm thoroughly enjoying ... prescient indeed!

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Toffler was fine for its time. I know it scared the bejeezus out of me while I read it in a restroom at my grandparents house at age 11 bundled next to 12 copies of readers digest...

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And all I do is write old fashioned sonnets. Can't see that catching on, yet still I write. I put my neck out there ten years ago and ran for sheriff. All I got out of that was rage from the political establishment, but I did my bit. As we all age out and die the world be taken over by, what? Ford help us.

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Good on yer, Frank. I have subscribed.

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Thanks, and I back.

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I think one of the elements of “future shock” that literally no one talks about is the overwhelming cost of living, particularly in the United States, and partly how it impacts young people, the Boomers’ grandkids. That really IS Future Shock, which to me is a fraudulent and useless book written by someone who was lucky enough to parlay a cheap humanities degree (remember those days?) into a book that somehow captured his generation’s imagination despite having absolutely no subject matter expert qualifications.

You mentioned young people not even wanting to get a driver’s license, which is what triggered my comment here. Zoomers don’t want a drivers license because it’s the gateway to horrendous personal expense for an object that pollutes the earth and bleeds your wallet dry whenever something breaks. It has nothing to do with Instagram or screen slavery. It has to do with debt slavery in a society in which they can’t even afford an apartment. Toffler’s Boomer audience collectively made those arrangements to benefit themselves and caused the United States to become a profoundly classist and unequal society. Too bad Toffler wasn’t smart enough to see THAT coming.

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(A comment I saved to Readwise)

Diane Coleman posted:

“For this very reason I tend to look at the economic system as the proper focus of the problem today. But don't call it capitalism, call it creditism. And don't get too hopeful about a possible remedy. Markets and the "law of supply and demand" have not controlled the economy since the end of the Bretton Woods system, when currency became fiat and the government became the new controller-manager of the economy. We could print money out of thin air, and did; the total US credit/debt went from one trillion to fifty trillion in the first forty years. As the new money machine pumped out credit, material standards of living throughout the world rose. People applauded and didn't want to know too much about where it all might be heading. I don't need to describe the perilous position this has put us in today, as we must continue to maintain ever increasing levels of credit to avoid a worldwide recession. It feels to me (a nurse) like a never-ending Code Blue, you can't quit and pronounce the patient [dead] or every patient in the entire health care system is going to collapse at the same time. You just have to keep on compressing that chest. Endlessly. What a nightmare. What is pertinent here is that a credit based economy needs consumers and since neither the economy nor the consumers are subject to any material-based constraints, the sky's the limit for personal choice. And we absolutely must have consumers who consume so we have to encourage outlandish expenditures. I have rarely read, in all the discussions about transgender surgery, any serious consideration given to what such an ever-expanding set of demands upon health care resources might cost the nation or the world. I just automatically think in terms of "opportunities forfeited." But intelligent younger people today think in terms of "You want it, you get it. No limits." The system has changed things so much I cannot bridge the chasm; they may as well be speaking Mandarin. And I know it is not for lack of personal integrity, they are just trying to deal with a mad, mad world. This has been the major hurdle for me in trying to understand my nearing-middle-age adult children. I grew up in the "before times" and even though I rationally understand what is going on, sort of, I remain astonished at my children's lack of a sense of virtue about "saving" and "thrift." These concepts are meaningless in the world they live in.”

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If they had the savings and thrift ethic (I think more young people do than their elders, like the person quoted above, ever give them credit for) the economy that the Silents and Boomers architected would collapse!

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Oops. Can’t edit comments! My final point: Diane Coleman, for all that verbiage, is simply saying, “Kids these days!” The age-old disdain for the generation that comes after you. Gaseous and self-absorbed, poor Diane is

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(You can’t edit comments, but you can copy what you wrote, delete the comment, then post a new, improved, comment!)

Per Tom Rush: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGvLR14juDc

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No license 'cause cars too expensive? Nah, not where I sit.

No one wants to drive because it sucks the life essence out of everyone, turning us all into enraged zombie warriors. In a rational world electrically-powered mass transit, bicycles and low-power mobile devices would be everywhere and free at the point of entry, thus keeping an additional million Americans alive every year. Instead we've delivered the public space to private property storage and mass murder disguised as normality.

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Cars are deconstructed mass transit. Unfortunately, as with so much else, they are designed for California, not for concentrated urban environments, and a mismatch is the result. Bikes and low powered mobile devices don’t work for family transportation. Urban mass transit designed for the 20th century is increasing dangerous.

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San Francisco, being (according to the census) the second densest city in the US, wants a word...

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Poor San Francisco is the odd man out, and, to switch metaphors, the crazy aunt in the attic.

In terms of auto design, California, meaning Los Angeles, makes the rules. And because the market is so large, the automakers cater to that market, & the rest of the country has to accept what California dictates. One of my former girlfriends lived in LA, and remarked that she spent more time in her car than in her house, if you discounted sleeping. It’s important to have a large, comfortable, responsive car to be in, because they spend so much time on the highways. It’s really not so much an urban environment as it is a suburban one.

San Francisco is a different kind of urban. Two of my sons lived for several years in San Francisco. One got along fine without a car, but occasionally possessed a moped, and a bicycle. The other had a Mini Cooper, which is probably the optimum size car for that urban environment. Neither had a family at the time.

I live in Chicago & own a car that has become too large now that we no longer go on auto trips. If it weren’t paid for, I’d probably switch to something smaller. Chicago itself is an amalgamation of different kinds of urban environments. Parts of it are devolving to suburban style stripmallish roads. Others remain neighborhoods, some like Manhattan, some like Brooklyn. There are spots where one can live without a car, and others where cars are a bit more than a convenience but a bit less than a necessity.

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Have you *seen* the roads and traffic in West Hollywood? LA has quite a few relatively dense neighborhoods too, where a smaller car would probably be optimal (particularly for parking). Public transit can also be quite nice in some areas.

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Indeed I have , & driven there. My in-laws own a very nice place in nearby Studio City. (They were rather surprised that my wife & I preferred to walk to local businesses only a mile or so away. rather than drive.) Certainly agree with you about the utility of small cars.

But have my doubts about public trans. Here in Chicago, we have what passes for public trans. It works for young & single people. It does not work for families & elderly (depending where located). And it is increasing dangerous due to the inability/unwillingness of the city govt to deal with crime & and mentally ill people on the L in particular.

Utopian schemes for urban transit aren’t going to work. We probably can make some improvements at the margins, though, if they are localized to neighborhoods.

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Well yeah, that’s definitely part of the whole problem. I just didn’t want to ramble on too long 🙂

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Excuse me, Richard, the Boomers "caused" the United States to become classist and unequal? The USA was founded on those ideas. The Boomers helped undo a lot of that classism.

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Between Ted and Maureen Dowd today.... and my 15 year old son watching the end of the Celtics game on his phone rather than joining me....I feel stressed.

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Fuck sports.

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Oh man, this is one of those comments sections, where we all agree that art is very cool and sportsball is very lame? They're both great!

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Yes, please. I'm absolutely barfing sick of having it pushed on me all the time -- you can't eat a meal or have a nice drink without sports TVs blaring.

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Sports is all crazy - especially since it is mostly ads with some game time sprinkled in - especially football. The games now totally revolve around the ads - both watching on TV and live. And yet....I can't think of anything I enjoy more than going to a baseball game in Pittsburgh with my son on a summer night. Bliss! (except for the netting they put up that makes it look like a fishbowl. But the thing about baseball is even with the new rules, it is a relatively long, quiet game where they still allow the game to breathe. In Pittsburgh when you walk across the bridge with everyone else there is the same guy every game playing his sax. There are the people selling peanuts outside and cold bottles of water for a buc. My son is in heaven taking it all in. We buy standing room seats then play the game of finding seats. There is so much to hate in this world, but when you zoom in and are doing something..ANYTHING with someone you love - the symphony, a baseball game, the museum - it is all perfection.

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Well said. It's great because it's *real* -- ANALOG-- human experience.

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This: “ANYTHING with someone you love - the symphony, a baseball game, the museum - it is all perfection.”

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Why do that? Sports is a distract from all the other modern problems. There’s a winner & a loser. There’s right on one hand & left on the other one! It’s the only way to get to that point where you have stake in something that’s not too serious or earth shattering! Enjoy your sports, the world won’t end if your team loses!

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May 29, 2023·edited May 29, 2023

The problem with sports, is that it is imitation war. There is a winner and loser. So-called sportsmanship, is only a rationalization. In any sport, your objective is to win. Sure, there are rules, but there are rules in war. Sports Are for men, historically. In recent times, women have been encouraged to form their own teams, but to what purpose - to become like men in their playful aggression, imitating their imagined experience on a battlefield.? Any sport, like any battle, is a quest to defeat the enemy. To see someone as a sportsman actually means what? Is hunting a sport? Is owning an AK 15, considered sports equipment?

Rather, I think emphasis needs to be placed on the performing arts, where an individual, or a group gathers to do their best, and to present their accomplishment to an audience for the purpose of either providing entertainment, or its most profound component, Art.

There is so much more I could say about sports, and performing arts. However, that would take a lot of research, and a lot of pages. I’m 77 years old, and have been thinking about this, since I was a child. Thus, my qualifications.

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Umm kind of. Good and timely topic. I studied that book in a philosophy class back when. It got the conversation started and though I agree there’s a numbness and malaise afoot, culture is downstream of tech, hence we’re reading and commenting on your piece. And, ready or not, here comes AI. Shock or not, Alvin struck a nerve, which could be described as “shocking”.

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Modern blog comments remind me of 19th century magazine letter sections. They used to be places for all sorts of discussions about whatever the magazine dealt with. 20th century magazines had a lot less of the give and take and sense of community.

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"The real forces of change in that era were the sexual revolution, liberation from censorship, the rise of alternative lifestyles, vocal protests, and the overturning of inherited values of all sorts."

But the sexual revolution was enabled by birth control, allowing women to engage in casual sex for the first time in human history without the fear of an unwanted pregnancy. How much of "liberation from censorship" is due to modern mass media such as television, newspapers and now the web/internet?

What is the one thing that enables humans to live _differently_ than their ancestors in the middle ages? It's technological progress. All of the fundamental changes to human society since then are due to that fundamental cause.

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The most surprising thing here, to me, is that Future Shock was apparently written in the 60s and released in 1970! I had previously expected it would have been written much more recently, maybe in the 80s, or perhaps less recently, in the 50s. The 70s, to me, are a time I do not associate with much obvious, shocking change.

I very, VERY much disagree about lack of future shock in the current era, at least from my viewpoint. Since 2020, mind-blowing development after mind-blowing development of things that I had previously only read about in fiction has happened, from (not technological or progress, but this is still where it started for me) COVID (I had been reading about it as speculation months before; but it was rather shocking to see it actually happen in real life); to *amazing* VR rivalling the best I have seen in fiction (with social VR metaverses like VRChat, NeosVR, and ChilloutVR, with technology like omnidirectional slidemills and full-body tracking); and most recently Generative AI. And that's not even going to all the things in-development which may appear in the future…

I disagree even further, MUCH further about lack of information overload. Maybe if you only view a very very narrow source of information, sure, but for me, I'm trying to wade through dozens of email newsletters per day, practically unlimited things I want to stay up to date on on Reddit and Discord, a YouTube watch later playlist that is literally thousands of videos long with more appearing every day, and so much more. I get WAY WAY WAAYYYYY more information I want to read and/or watch per 24 hours than I can possibly process in 24 hours. I don't dare pay for anything other than YouTube Premium, as there is already way way too much; paying for anything exclusive would just pile even more information that I don't have enough time to read or watch on top. Video games too: Between my existing bought games, Epic Game Store's weekly free games, and always-free games, I have way way way WAAAYYY too many of those to possibly play too.

Try to keep up with technology development in the cutting-edge field of AI, and the future shock is even more potent, with so many developments to keep track of that it can be a challenge to stay even casually up-to-date on Reddit without spending much too much time per day.

Music changes too. If you only look up the most popular, yes, it is old, but if you diverge from that at all, finding music from algorithms or searches or finding some good stock music used in a video somewhere… There is TONS of music from artists I had never heard of that has come out in the last few years, much of it utterly fantastic, enough so that I would say we are even in a golden age of independent content. One of my favourite styles is to combine epic orchestral with other genres like heavy metal and electronic (Thomas Bergersen often does this to AMAZING effect); another is synthwave, which often sounds 80s, but other times not so. If you actually search it out, there is TONS and TONS of new music. It might not be the most popular due to the nature of people no longer listening to the same things as each other, but it DEFINITELY exists.

I am continually shocked at how anyone can ever be bored in this day and age. There is just way, way too much content in every conceivable medium. I can think of several platforms, where I feel like I could probably read/watch/interact all day 24/7, and still probably would struggle to stay up-to-date. I feel like I need an AI to read and comment on Reddit for me at this point, there's just so much to stay up-to-date on.

Maybe if you are only familiar with the most mainstream of the mainstream and live in an area where you do routinely see things like self-driving cars and food delivery robots on the street, and do not stay up-to-date on technology and futurism at all, or maybe if you are somehow stuck in 2019, things might seem to be in stasis – but if you live in 2023, stay up to date on technology, and are interested in enough subcultures… I think that from a perspective like this, future shock and information overload are much more potent.

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Neil Postman was the prescient one.

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When the first television's came out people called them talking lamps / I asked Laurie Anderson on camera a question that I can't remember my question but her answer "Next is the new, new" instead of new, improved etc it is Next / it is said it's not the technology that revolutionizes the world it's how people use it / talking about the culture and culture of apathy - think about the state of education, learning and critical thinking have been replaced by memorization / Einstein said "Imagination is more important than knowledge!" / You're on a roll especially not looking at Future Shock" but our "Shocking Culture" where we accept violence, poverty, fear, suicide, mass murder, drug addiction etc as the numbing norm!

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He missed the point because he missed the cause. The answer to our conundrum is easy enough to find...if you can get your head and heart straight first.

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A profound and timely analysis!

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Spot on, once again Ted! Instead of Future Shock, we are being fed Future Yawn... GIF help us!

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