“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.
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.”
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.
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.