Alvin Toffler paused, trapped for the moment in his own info-shere.
"Look, do me a favor. I don't want to pose sitting at the keyboard of my word processor. It isn't even hooked up right now, and it's a symbol I don't need. Everybody looks at me like I'm a piece of technology, and I'm tired of it."
The photographer shrugged and chose another prop. If the author of "Future Shock" (78 weeks on the bestseller list, 6 million copies sold in 50 languages since 1970) was enduring a bit of "the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future," he had no one to blame but himself.
Toffler, the Buck Rogers of predictive sociology, is just back from a fresh voyage into the future.His report is called "The Third Wave," a 550-page tome on What Happens Next that costs $14.95 in 1980 earth dollars.
Among its findings (on page 49): "A civilization is more than simply a techno-sphere and a matching sociosphere. All civilizations also require an 'info-sphere' for producing and distributing information . . ."
In other words, you have to go on a promotion tour. And avoid being mistaken for a computer.
The surf is definitely up for "The Third Wave," which optimistically postulates the death of industrial society, and the rising in its place of "a strange new civilization" characterized by smallness rather than bigness, government by political minorities, energy conservation, the de-massification of the media and customized hamburgers. It is a future, Toffler asserts, that can be "more sane, sensible and sustainable, more decent and democratic than any we have ever known."
That's about as close as he gets to an actual definition of the Third Wave (the first two waves were Agriculture -- 8,000 B.C., probably in the spring; and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century).
"The Third Wave" seems destined to take its place on the national diagnostic shelf right along with "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," "The Lonely Crowd," "The Greening of America," "The Hidden Persuaders," "The Territorial Imperative," "The Organization of Man" and "Future Shock," of course. It has a catchy title, with an all-encompassing theme and with luck, a touch of controversy. A Marxist and His Mills
Toffler's method is to launch a premise -- factories are doomed, more people will work at home in an emerging electronic cottage industry -- and then wallpaper it with examples from The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Futurist and Electronics magazine. In that way are the effects of the eco-spasm on prosumers explored, and we come to understand how "the interweave problem aggravates decisional speedup. Or we're supposed to.
"I've taken on a big job this time," Toffler said, sipping capuccino in a cafe a few blocks from his city apartment on East 78th Street in Manhattan.
"I'm quite aware that I have risked making a fool of myself. People sneer at grand scenarios nowadays, so I'm leading with my chin. Optimism is out. This book will offend doctrinaire Marxists, liberals, conservatives, academics and literateurs who believe that matters of this scope should not be written about for a wide audience."
Many a writer would give his eyeteeth to offend a doctrinaire Marxist, but as it happens, Toffler used to be a Marxist. After he got out of New York University in 1950, he and his wife, Heidi, went off for five years of labor in the mills of Ohio. "I'd been reading Steinbeck," he explained. "I wanted to write the great American novel, and factories were going to be for me what lettuce was for him."
He wound up a free-lance magazine writer and editor and, after coining the phrase Future Shock in a 1966 article for Horizon, a futurist as well.
The factory has rather worn off now, and with his green eyes and well cut suit, Toffler-with-capuccino looks for all the world like a best-selling author, consultant and seer.
"But you know, Heidi and I are still inveterate factory-visitors," he said. "Much of the work on this book was in the real world, not in dusty libraries. The world is where you actually see changes taking place.
"For example, we stopped at the Fiat factory outside Warsaw. I asked the manager there to show me how to do the job I had on the assembly line in Ohio 25 years before. I was a metal finisher, and I used a 50-pound grinder to smooth and polish car bodies 10 hours a day.
"But we couldn't find my job. It was gone. You see, the new steel is smoother and the new paints are better, so my old job had been eliminated. I would never have learned that in books."
Toffler is convinced that the evidence of the Third Wave is all about us, in the changes of assembly-line procedures (in fact, assembly lines are on the way out), in the raw data of the 60 magazines he subscribes to and in the hurly-burly of the marketplace. Nor are they independent of one another, or random. As he says in the book:
"The crack-up of the nuclear family, the global energy crisis, the spread of cults and cable television, the rise of flex-time and new fringe-benefit packages, the emergence of separatist movements from Quebec to Corsica, may all seem like isolated events. Yet precisely the reverse is true."
What that reverse is Toffler never really says, preferring instead to waltz tantalizingly through a ballroom full of examples like an over-diligent dancing instructor.
"The Third Wave," he says, is a work of large-scale synthesis, an identification of a process already begun, a prediction of good things to come through technology that gives "reason to challenge the chic pessimism that is so prevalent today."
"Look," he said, "a lot of our institutions don't work, and people wonder why. It's because they're Second Wave, and the Third Wave is here. That's why we can't manage the economy. The liberals and conservatives in Congress are playing Ping-Pong with each other -- raise taxes! lower taxes! -- but they're both seeking national solutions to problems. Huge agencies gearing up, spending huge amounts of dollars.
"There is no national solution to economic matters, because there is no national economy. At best, there are regional economies. It's obvious, unless you're blind. It costs you $60,000 a year to be in business in Spokane. If you're in the same business in Manhattan, it costs you $450,000. How can any national policy cover both?
"The mayor of Sunnyvale, Calif., has an employment problem -- too may jobs to fill. Meanwhile, in Youngstown, Ohio, the mills are closing and people are out of work. Second Wave mechanisms can't cope with that." Diplomats on Every Corner
To Toffler, Congress is obsolete. The problems that flow to it are overwhelmingly and unsolvable. It looks for mass solutions in a society that is quickly being "de-massified." We will shortly see the end of so-called majority rule, the dissolution of our outmoded party structures and the transfer of power to ad-hoc minority coalitions. Diplomats of the future, he suggests, will be assigned not to mediate between countries, but between minorities in each county.
These new diplomats, if Toffler has his way, will be "facilitators trained in issue clarification, priority setting and dispute resolution."
Toffler does not doubt that the industrial society will kick and scream mightily as the Third Wave washes over it, but he does see a practopia at the end of the tunnel -- "neither the best nor the worst of all possible worlds, but one that is both practical and preferable to the one we had."
"It's going to be electronic, rather than industrial, and computers are going to play a large part, and it's going to have enormous possibilities for intelligence in conservation of energy and people.
"Take the Universal Product Code -- those new patterns you see on cans in the market. They also have them on books. Some people hate it, it's Brave New World to them. But the fact is that it works.
"The way the mass paperback market used to operate, they printed 200,000 copies, put them on the newsstands and sold maybe 100,000. The rest were pulped. That's very wasteful.
"Now, with UPC, they can put the books where they want them, because they have inventory control. Books about food near groceries, books on boats near marina, even Bibles near churches, I suppose. The old distribution system was gross, but this one is subtle. The old system used two trees, but this one uses only one.
"These angles develop because we're entering age of diversity, or de-massification. Cable television with 30 channels. Why, my daughter Karen -- she's 26 -- is helping to start a new newspaper on the East Side. It's a weekly with a circulation of only 10,000. Definitely third Wave."
Is Karen Toffler staking her career on her father's theories?
"No," Toffler laughed. "I think she was just looking for a job." Positively Third Wave
All in all, Alvin Toffler is at home with change. He seems to find more romance in the future than in the past.
"It's true that I don't revere the past. That doesn't mean I've got amnesia, or that I can't admire Thomas Jefferson. But this 'golden age' stuff leaves me cold. People look back at the Middle Ages and see green fields, but all I see is a cesspool of ignorance and intolerance."
He is even willing to go on the record for metric.
"I'm a pilot. It makes navigating easier."
And for Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the new-wave German filmmaker.
"I'm a movie buff, I see all kinds of stuff. I recommend Fassbinder's "The Marriage of Maria Braun,' which I caught last week. But I like to come at such things from several sides. I also read a book called "The Fourth and Richest Reich,' and I read that against the movie. I read all the time, in elevators, in cars, even while crossing the street. I'm probably going to get hit one of these days,"
Toffler says that he sees himself as a social critic, rather than a futurist or sociologist, although he feels his background qualifies him all around.
"I regard what I do as an enriched form of journalism," he said. "I'm a generalist. The trouble with academic social scientists is that they're trained to ignore reality."
Toffler, however, set out to study reality, to the confusion of his parents and peers. His father had worked at a sewing machine in the fur industry until Alvin was a teen-ager, and intended his son to be a lawyer. Instead, he became an idealist.
He has written that in the factories of Ohio "I got a realistic picture of how things really are made -- the energy, love and rage that are poured into ordinary things we take for granted. One day I carried a 65-year-old woman out of a punch press in which she had just lost four fingers. She screamed, 'Jesus and Mary, I'll never work again,' In her agony, with four bleeding stumps, that was all she could think about. You never forget that."
Meanwhile, Toffler was writing fiction, political tracts and poetry, none of which was being published. He finally got a job with a welding publication, not because he could write, but because he could weld.
Soon he went to West Virginia for a better opportunity: as feature editor of Labor's Daily, a publication that was intended to be the Wall Street Journal of the working classes. After two years he became a Washington correspondent for a small Pennsylvania newspaper, and eventually began appearing in Good Housekeeping, Playboy, Ladies' Home Journal and other well-paying magazines. The Welder of Words
The phrase "future shock" which is now in most dictionaries, occurred to him during a telephone conversation with a psychologist (Dr. Rachel Gittleman-Klein). If oe could have culture shock, he realized, one could also have future shock. "That analogy changed my life," he wrote.
His wife Heidi still works closely with him. They have a house in Washington, Conn., live in Manhattan several months of the year and travel widely together.
The initial reviews of "The Third Wave" have been well-displayed, and Toffler is sensitive to what they have said. There has been some sniping at his prose style, he concedes, "but nobody yet has found fault with the actual issues in the book."
He still winces slightly when the subject of his Adam compulsion comes up. There is no doubt that Alvin Toffler, in visiting the garden of the future, has named a number of new beasts. His table of contents contains a litany of Mechano-mania; represento-kits, techno-rebels, blip cultures, presto effects, new matrixes, and eco-spasm beset prosumers.
"I do not coin a word if there already is one," he said, eyes flashing. "'Prosumer' is the only simple way to identify 'one who produces for use, rather than exchange.'
"I challenge anyone to find a better way to say it."