(Note: The “today” I mentioned at the beginning of this post was on April 21st. This has sat in the drafts pile for a while.)
Today, I happened to pick up a copy of the 1970 futurist classic Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. This being Korea, there’s never a shortage of Toffler books around: the author’s tenure as an advisor to Kim Dae Jung seems to have ensured an enduring reputation here. (The library where I work even has a Korean translation of the book! I wonder how faithful the translation was, as well as how some of the, er, cheesier and more culturally-specific concepts were translated.)
The book surely has the aura of the 1970s. One passage near the beginning of Chapter 1 waxes, er, gamut-ward in its examples of the “odd personalities” that accelerated social changes are “breeding”:
… children who at twelve are no longer childlike; adults who at fifty are children of twelve. There are rich men who playact poverty, computer programers who turn on with LSD. There are anarchists who, beneath their dirty denim shirts, are outrageous conformists, and conformists whom beneath their button-down collars, are outrageous anarchists. There are married priests and atheist ministers and Jewish Zion Buddhists. We have pop… and op… and art cinéthique… There are Playboy Clubs and homosexual movie theaters… amphetamines and tranquilizers… anger, affluence, and oblivion. Much oblivion.
Just prior to this passage, Toffler refers to curious social flora–from psychedelic churches and ‘free universities’ to science cities in the Arctic and wife-swap clubs California, and this specifically struck me as quite analogous to Korea. (If I remember rightly, a wife-swapping club — or was it just a swingers’ club? — was busted recently in Busan, which is the closest thing Korea has to a California.) It makes perfect sense to me that the book was seen as relevant to Korea in the late 90s!
Outside of Korea, the impact of the book Future Shock on our world is possibly inestimable, but its impact on the SF genre is still greater. As much as SF people love to trace their lineage back to Frankenstein, or Lucian of Samasota, or the Epic of Gilgamesh, even, it seems to be that Toffler’s book was a deep, hard shot of heroin to the genre, eventually culminating in at least one of its major late-20th/early-21st century tropes: The Singularity. Continue reading