The one-sentence summary

We need to concentrate hard on how to cope with change.


  • This classic book was written in 1970, so it is interesting to review what it said and what has happened since.
  • The author (still alive aged 84) defines Future Shock as the disease of change. He originally coined the phrase in an article in 1965.
  • If change is too rapid, it overwhelms people. This comes about via five main phenomena:
  • He talks of the 800th lifetime. This refers to dividing the last 50,000 years of man’s existence into lifetimes of 62 years each. Of these, 650 were spent in caves, and the majority of everything we use today was generated in the present – the 800th lifetime.
  • Victims of Future Shock include deniers (those who deny change), specialists (who only keep pace with change in a specialist area), reversionists (always going back to previous adaptive routines regardless of whether they work), and super simplifiers (who grasp any cause and back it totally, without truly understanding it).
  • He then offers some strategies for survival, which include changing educational emphasis from the historical to futuristic, taming technology, and a treatise on the strategy of social futurism.
  1. The death of permanence: achievements in the 800th lifetime (see below), the pace of life, and accelerative thrust speeding everything up.
  2. A constant state of transience: throwaway things, nomadic people, adhocracy organisations, and fast, kinetic information.
  3. An obsession with novelty: scientific, experiential, and family changes.
  4. Too much diversity: ‘overchoice’, a surfeit of ‘subcults’, and a diversity of lifestyle choices (he predicted the paradox of choice).
  5. Reaching the limits of our adaptability: overstimulated individuals suffering a bombardment of the senses.


  • If Future Shock is, among other things, a social illness that contains a crisis of adaptation, an ephemeral environment, a (human) biosystem with a limited capacity for change, and millions threatened with adaptive breakdown, then maybe nothing has changed in over 40 years.
  • Certain predictions are fun and/or ironic to look back on – such as total control of the weather, the role of eugenics, cloning, cyborgs, robots.
  • Individuals having an identity crisis may now be a permanent feature – what the author calls “being between two styles.”
  • Associative Man is indifferent to the structure of a modern company – working with or around it as he sees fit.
  • He talks of uncoded and coded messages. The former are any stimuli we take in that are natural; the latter depend on social convention and are human generated.
  • In 1970 he was bemoaning bureaucracy and heralding the return of entrepreneurialism.


  • Not much. Although over 40 years old, the sentiments are relevant today.