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What Happens When Humans Are Overpowered By Speed?: The Book ‘Future Shock’ Answers

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“Social rationality presupposes individual rationality, and this, in turn, depends not only on certain biological equipment, but on continuity, order and regularity in the environment. It is premised on some correlation between the pace and complexity of change and man’s decisional capacities. By blindly stepping up the rate of change, the level of novelty, and the extent of choice, we are thoughtlessly tampering with these environmental preconditions of rationality. We are condemning countless millions to future shock.”

These words are from the book Future Shock published by author Alvin Toffler in 1970. Here, we constitutes the countless millions who are condemned to future shock. A management student studies Change Management as a part of their syllabus. We all have tried to learn various ways to cope up with change. Change Management is now an art taught by many to millions from our generation. But do we truly understand the impact of change on a human being? Do we understand how it affects our mental health? Can the change really be controlled and managed or is change controlling us?

Future Shock explores these areas and more in depth and provides insights that we should really be concerned about. Since mental health is a hot topic of present society, Future Shock is a relevant book to be read in order to understand some of the major reasons to our mental and health breakdowns.

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. Image has been provided by the author.

The high rate of change and overstimulation a human being’s experiences can cause terrible mental breakdowns. All the breaks we wish to take from our routine work life start making a lot of sense. All these are efforts towards slowing things down.

Many would find the following extract relatable:

“…the bewildered, anxious student, pressured by parents, uncertain of his draft status, nagged at by an educational system whose obsolescence is more strikingly revealed every day, forced to decide on a career, a set of values, and a worthwhile lifestyle, searches wildly for a way to simplify his existence. By turning to LSD, Methedrine or heroin, he performs an illegal act that has, at least, the virtue of consolidating his miseries. He trades a host of painful and seemingly insoluble troubles for one big problem, thus radically, if temporarily, simplifying existence.”

The number of people who rely on these solutions has been increasing day after day. It seems to be the easiest way to escape from the overwhelming reality. We have been failing to control the outside, and perhaps, therefore, more and more people choose to control the insides of their brains since that is at least possible.

Nothing has felt more relatable than the following words I read in the book. If one has to describe people as they are now, the following words would describe it best:

“Caught in the turbulent flow of change, called upon to make significant, rapid fire life decisions, he feels not simply intellectual bewilderment, but disorientation at the level of personal values. As the pace of the change quickens, this confusion is tinged with self-doubt, anxiety and fear. He grows tense, tires easily. He may fall ill. As the pressure relentlessly mounts, tension shades into irritability, anger, and sometimes, senseless violence. Little events trigger enormous responses; large events bring inadequate responses.”

Image Source: Freepik

We overreact to change at times, and at other times, we under-react. Either way, it is the reaction, and not the response, which results from the receiving of a stimulus. Most times, we lack precious time to process the information or stimulus to respond accordingly. What we fail to understand is “that men behave irrationally, acting against their own clear interest, when thrown into conditions of high change and novelty, borne out by studies of human behavior in times of fire, flood, earthquake and other crises.”

We all undergo high rate of change that causes immense amounts of frustration and even greater amounts of confusion. And yet, the prevailing corporate culture hails this change. The flexibility and adaptability to change is now a requirement. If an employee wouldn’t adapt to the change, they would be changed by the companies.

Is this rate of adaptability healthy? This book explains at length that it is not. Speed and change have taken a toll on our bodies and minds, and this toxic culture of change has to change. Change in itself is necessary. It marks progress in humans. But the rate of change we have to cope up with today is beyond our capability. We are biting off more than we can chew. Although some people appear to be having remarkable success in adapting to change, we often watch them reaching breakdown eventually.

“For despite all his heroism and stamina, man remains a biological organism, a ‘bio-system’, and all such systems operate within our inexorable limits.”

It is when we try surpassing this limit by an unreasonable margin that we start suffering. There is only so much that we can absorb. Beyond that, our body or mind not only resists, but attack. We are in constant war with ourselves. We keep pushing our limits. Unfortunately, some of us get tired of living. We often ignore things that are beyond our capabilities of achieving it. Life itself becomes one such thing and the increasing suicide rate perhaps reflects the same. People get tired of living.

Image Source: Freepik

The book explores how this rapid change affects our health. It says,“…the linkage between changefulness and illness was nailed down more firmly than ever.” It further says that “higher the life-change score, the more severe the illness was likely to be.”

Settling down doesn’t seem to be a bad idea anymore. Perhaps, it would appear boring to some, but that is a reasonable price one has to pay for a healthy body and mind, because “change carries a physiological price tag with it. And the more radical the change, the steeper the price.” Among many decisions that we are forced to make, this is of utmost importance. Must we sacrifice our sanity for diverse changes and novelties or retain our sanity by choosing change on a pace that will not drive us insane?

The part that I found most interesting relates to World War I: “During WW1, a bearded Chindit soldier, fighting with General Winsgate’s forces behind the Japanese lines in Burma, actually fell asleep while a storm of machine gun bullets splattered around him. Subsequent investigation revealed that this soldier was not merely reacting to physical fatigue or lack of sleep, but surrendering to a sense of overpowering apathy.”

However, even under different circumstances, we suffer the same. We have surrendered to the overpowering information overload and change. We surrender, and stop caring and responding altogether.

“The assertion that the world has ‘gone crazy’, the graffiti slogan that ‘reality is a crutch’, the interest in hallucinogenic drugs, the enthusiasm for astrology and the occult, the search for truth in sensation, ecstasy and ‘peak experience’, the swing towards extreme subjectivism, the attack on science, the snowballing belief that reason has failed man, reflect the everyday experience of masses of ordinary people who find they can no longer cope rationally with change.”

Written about 50 years ago, these words are relevant to us today more than ever. The future referred to in the book refers to our present. The shock we experience due to information explosion and so many changes around us is addressed in the book elaborately. Such insights that the book provides equips us with the knowledge regarding what might as well be affecting us mentally.

Mental health is a topic heavily discussed on multiple platforms. While we accuse each other of having caused us mental disturbance, we overlook the aspect of the cause of this disturbance being the high rate of change and overstimulation. It is just too much! And enough is enough. We should perhaps slow down before we all lose our rationality and sanity.

Future Shock is full of references to different research works we would otherwise never come across. They are insightful, interesting, and most often, shocking.

Do not run past the beauties of life. Walk. There will still be change and there will still be progress.

To change fast or to change over the centuries, slowly. That is the question my dearest.

Note: All the italicised quotes above are from two chapters from part 5 of the book. The book has 20 chapters in 6 parts.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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