THE MOST RENOWNED AMERICAN FUTURIST
Europe still lives in the past
This is the concerned comment of the
most renowned American futurist, who doesn't see our
Continent very worried with cutting with the past. In
this interview, he reveals his two 'passions'. A massive
investment in new ways of teaching, aimed at a more
educated population and an electronic and communicational
infrastructure are the two basic conditions for a strategy
based on knowledge. This is the challenge that the Nations
and great markets will have in the next century. This
one of the topics of his next book, which will only
come out when the dust of the Millennium settles down.
Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues
in Los Angeles (1999)
Alvin Toffler is now 70 years-old and he is preparing,
after all the 'noise' about the Millennium passes, to
astonish us again, with a book whose title is still
a secret, but whose content he unravelled in this exclusive
interview made in the Californian city he now lives
in. What concerns him, in these troubled times, is the
complex transition that the more substantial part of
the Planet, where poverty as a rule still lingers, is
going through, at a time when the new economy and society
based on knowledge are no longer something from the
future. All you have to do is watch what is going on
in the 'big' ones in Asia, Russia or China.
Europe also raised a concerned comment. Behind the
euphoria of the Euro, it is still an Old Continent resisting
the decisive dive into the Third Wave. If you ask him
for a European brand as a symbol of this wave, he only
recalls SAP AG, a multinational earning points in the
Toffler became a reference for the generation of the
'third industrial revolution' when he successfully signed
in 1980 the slogan of the 'Third Wave', in the book
that definitively placed him as one of the most respected
futurists of the world.
The rhythm of writing of the Toffler couple - the Alvin
and Heidi duet, he stresses, after taking his wife out
of the shadows of fame in the 90's - can be counted
by decades. For the most impatient, the waiting is long.
Nevertheless, he doesn't give up 'chewing' time with
his public. This is also an interview with a long waiting
time. Not a decade, however. It was a promise, since
the publishing of "War and Anti-war" by the
couple, more than five years ago in New York. Several
mishappenings in the family life of the Tofflers postponed
it. "Perseverance is one of the virtues of the
journalist", recalls Alvin, underlining that he
was "a journalist himself" and he "knows
how these things works".
Finally, our meeting occurred in Los Angeles, and a
thank you word was necessary in the logistics provided
by Jack Nilles, the 'father' of telework, who also didn't
meet the futurist for more than ten years.
The most impatient are despairing. When will your next
book come out, within your strategy of only publishing
at a decade's rhythm?
ALVIN TOFFLER - You will have to remain impatient
a while longer. I'm working on it, but together with
my publisher we ended up thinking there will be too
much noise surrounding the Millennium. That is why I
don't think I'll publish anything before 2001; only
after the dust settles down.
Nevertheless, can you unravel a bit what you're investigating
A.T. - I've been concentrating on the
problem of social and cultural conditions for the creation
of Wealth in modern times. These processes are complex.
They're not simple, as thought by, for example, western
people when they got to the USSR with their plans for
implementing a market. They have now discovered, frozen,
that basic conditions were lacking, as a legal system.
And the monster they created has nothing to do with
what they thought they were 'transplanting'...
In fact, in East Europe the most massive transitions
of the system are occurring, the most complex problems
of the Planet for the years to come. Are you optimistic?
A.T. - It's not easy to be optimistic.
Russia is like a boiling pan: emerging fascism, tactical
nuclear weapons at hand, wild capitalism... It has all
the ingredients necessary to explode at one point or
another. In China, however, an even deeper revolution
than the communist one from Mao Ze Dong, one that Chinese
leaders want to accomplish with stability. It will be,
no doubt, amazing, if they succeed! But if Asia can
free 1 billion people from poverty, it will be something
unseen in World History.
So, deep down, you're hopeful about Asia?
A.T. - Contrary to what is usually said
today as a fad, I think that Asia is not finished. In
my books I'd anticipated a lot of turbulence and warned
that continuous economic growth could stop. Of course,
nobody knows the future, but I'm hopeful that Asia will
come back. There is a tremendous energy in its "basement"
- human resources are still there. There is a hard core
that wasn't liquidated, which is still working for the
future. Sincerely, I think the International Monetary
Fund has its hands covered with blood in Asia. It didn't
understand a thing about what was going on there.
What about Europe?
A.T. - I would also like to know what
will happen. After the Second World War, the purpose
of integration was political. However, according to
my terminology, it didn't come rightfully with a dive
into the Third Wave. Europe still hasn't discovered
it, it's true, after 50 years. If you talk to me about
the European brands of the third wave, I can only find
an exception - SAP AG. The rest, I'm sorry to say, is
dead and more than dead. Your political and even business
community, as hard as it is to hear, still lives essentially
in the past. The implicit strategy of your governments
or even the bureaucracy in Brussels is still this one:
feed the first wave, with the agriculture lobby increasing
its weight; sustain the second wave, so that non-competitive
companies survive; and ignore, as a whole, the entrepreneurs
of the third wave.
Even in political speeches, do you see this conservative
attitude, or is it more an epidemic anti-European reaction,
A.T. - What can I say to you? Even in
the political field, I think a great mistake was made
in Europe. The lucid critics of the left and central
wing were put aside. The only critic presence - that
one even more old-fashioned is from the extremists of
the right wing, which is terrible. Your politicians
are still dazzled with the Euro, but after the first
two or three years, they'll change. I even think that
some European politicians are already aware of the problems.
They understand what is going on, but they can't take
the necessary steps, because clients don't let them.
The Third Wave means change, deep change, and a lot
of people, with power and privileges, don't want it.
Coming back, now, to your books. You've given us a
fundamental book each decade. But after "Powershift",
edited in 1990, you surprised us with two more important
works, one of them, "War and Anti-War" (in
1993), published, by the way, at the right time...
A.T. - We decided to write that book - "War
and Anti-War" - on the night Baghdad was bombed
for the first time during the Gulf War. Watching it
on TV we recalled: this new type of war projected in
front of our eyes was what we had discussed more than
a decade before, when a group of American generals has
started to read our book "The Third Wave"
and intended to apply those ideas to the military field.
At the time, a group of generals, leaded by Donn Starry,
wanted to reformulate war according to our third wave
terminology, and one of the elements of that team, in
charge of the doctrine, Don Morelli, came to get us
at the Quality Inn's elevator at 7h30 AM on April 12th
1982, to take us to the Pentagon. Thus started the change
to a doctrine of "war of the third wave",
where knowledge took a central place in operations.
It was this story we told with detail in that book.
Now, military from the world over have been studying
Thirty years later, what would you re-write in "Future
Shock", your most known best-seller?
A.T. - I wouldn't mess with basic suppositions
- the idea of change, of economy based on knowledge,
the role of technology. What I would perhaps rewrite
would be the economics part. I still hadn't freed from
an influence from many western economists from those
60's. I myself, in that field, wasn't sufficiently radical.
The economists thought there wouldn't be more recession
- dominating economics was only a question of 'tuning'
the pace. They hardly guessed what would happen next
- like the oil crisis in the 70's, for example.
Looking now, at the future, what are the shocks we're
going through? For example, the Internet, now so popular,
what shock will it bring?
A.T. - Let's see, I was among the handful of
maybe 700 who, in the 70's, already used that communication
tool to develop a tremendous co-operative work. We were
a very small community at the time. Then, at the end
at the 80's the "media" discovered the Internet.
The idea that was transmitted, sometimes, from that
point, is that before there was nothing, that the Net
came out of the blue, suddenly. Obviously, it was not
like that. Since the beginning, we were convinced that
it was something that would completely revolutionise
institutions, like the family, finance, commerce, the
"media". Now, saying this is just a "cliché".
I think that the Net will not be a revolution for work
and commerce only. The home, our home, the place we
live in, is an emerging place. It is as if there was
a return, a dialectic one, to the pre-industrial phase.
And is there really a New Economy, or is it just also
hype journalism and marketing?
A.T. - There has been a caricatured debate on
the problem. On one side, there's the 'purists' saying
there is nothing new, and that what is going on with
the "hi-tech" stock is unjustified madness.
On the other, there's the defenders of the new economy,
tending to defend a naive optimism, an incessant growth,
never stopping. I think that both sides are wrong. There
certainly is a new economy! But it's naive to think
about an ever ending stability, when reality is pure
turbulence. The essential question is developing a strategy
based on knowledge - a national strategy. And that is
where the efforts of the debate should concentrate.
What do you mean by this necessity of developing national
strategies based on knowledge?
A.T. - All the fields are already talking about
it. And even the military, as we referred earlier, have
been aware for a long time, of the need of strategies
based on knowledge. What is now needed is that countries
think, on a national level, about strategies of this
kind. For me, there are two fundamental stepstones for
such a strategy: a better education and a good electronic
infrastructure. We have an absolute need of new ways
of teaching, where "media" themselves have
to be involved, computers, shared knowledge, families,
teachers, consultants, etc. I want to give you an example
of what I think is extraordinary in the positive involvement
of the "media" in a new type of education
- TV Globo, for the 500 Years of the Discovery of Brazil
by the Portuguese, is going to release a project for
the education of the Brazilians, mostly young ones.