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The Third Wave


Though the society foreseen is still emerging, with the dramatic transitions of the past two decades (e.g. Cell Phones, Internet, the rise of non-national and super-national powers, etc.), several distinguishing features were posed as characteristic of this new society. Among others, these included

  • The rolling back of the Industrial-Era creed of "standardization", as exemplified in the one-size-fits-all approach typical of institutions of this era, such as the education system, factories, governments, mass media, high volume mass production and distribution, etc.
  • The attack on the nation-state from above and below and progressive obsolescence of the nation-state, itself.
  • The assault on the nation-state from below would include both the gradual loss of consensus, such as has characterized the politics of the United States in the 21st century, as well as political turmoil in China (largely split amongst urban-rural lines), Israel (orthodox vs. secular), Germany (the deadlock following the 2005 elections), the Islamic world (fundamentalist or traditional vs. secular) and elsewhere. It would include the rise of regional interests and the progressive devolution of the nation-state itself; e.g. the autonomization of Wales and Scotland in Britain; of Nunavut and Canada; the frequent incidence of separatist movements, such as in Chechnya, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Ethiopia, the emergence of microstates, such as East Timor.
  • The assault on the nation-state from above would include the rise of powerful non-national entities: IGO's, multinational corporations, religions with global reach, and even terrorist organizations or cartels. It would include the progressive hemming-in of national economies and of nation-state under a growing network of super-national organizations and affiliations; e.g. the European Union, the newly formed African Union, as well as organizations such as the WTO or International Criminal Court.
  • The eclipsing of monetary wealth by knowledge and information as the primary determinant of power and its distribution. This was also discussed more fully in the sequel Powershift.
  • The eclipsing of manufacturing and manufacturing goods by knowledge-production and information-processing as the primary economic activity. This was significantly expanded on in the sequel Powershift, where Toffler nearly drew the line between the two along gender lines, coining the term "Material-Ismo" (a play on "machismo") to represent the infatuation with the industrial era world of manufacturing (as opposed to paper-pushing), and equating value with product (as opposed equating value with information). The criticism came down particularly hard on the former Stalinist societies, that have in recent years seen a substantial dislocation, particularly along gender lines, with female life expectancy now as much as 10 years greater than male life expectancy throughout the former USSR.
  • The emergence of various high technologies, such as cloning, global communications networks, nanotechnology, etc. However, these aspects were discussed in greater depth in Future Shock and somewhat deemphasized in the Third Wave.
  • A transformation of the very character of democracy, itself, from rule-by-periodic polling at the election booth, toward a more direct interaction between the government and its populace. To a large extent, this has already emerged with the rise of the Internet, though it has not yet congealed in the form of a fundamental revision of the constitution of any state. The trend toward on-line voting in the United States, following the election crisis of 2000, may be seen as a first step in this direction.

Despite the forecast of the obsolescence of the order of nation-states, and the rise of super-national entities, what was not forecast was the emergence of a world political union cast in the form of the United States of Earth. In the framework of the Wave Theory of Toffler, such an institution, if constituted along lines similar to present-day nation states, would represent the very archetype of the Second Wave writ large. Curiously, the potential of a federal world union cast in the mould of a heterogeneous mix (e.g. nations, labor unions, religions affiliations, businesses, popular assemblies, IGO's, etc. all brought together in an overlapping mix) was left open.

Another element notably absent from Toffler's Wave Theory was the evolution of society from an Earth-bound geography into a spacefaring or multi-world cosmography. The transition into outer space was not envisioned as a central feature of Third Wave society, other (perhaps) than the continuation and extension of near Earth orbit by national governments and their respective militaries.

Toffler left open both the question of what the outcome of the transformation of the structure of democracy was to entail, as well as the question of what kind of world order would supersede the order of nation-states. This became particularly acute in the 1993 addendum War and Anti-War which raised the issue of the "Genie out of the Bottle" (nuclear proliferation) and the illusion of the "Zone of Peace" being broken (i.e., 9-11, Madrid, London, etc.), but remained silent on the questions of what changes in the structure of the world would be required to resolve these dilemmas, if the nation-state is to become obsolete and "United State of Earth" type global organizations just as much so.

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Tags: transition, Third, societies, recognized, Tofflers