Toffler, Modi, and the Future Shock

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Navneet Anand
Alvin Toffler, the legendary futurist, would have been delighted had he lived six more months to see the Indian Prime Minister do what he thought American politicians were not capable of – challenge and demolish the status quo, and take bold decisions. The author of one of all time best-sellers,Future Shock, would have relished the onslaught of change in India caused by the November 8 declaration by Narendra Modi on demonetisation. It was somehow akin to Toffler’s idea of a future shock – and one which unleashed a new wave of transformation – putting a lid on many old ways and practices. It set the tone for a metamorphosis by dealing a big blow to black economy and terror funding. It promised to redefine economic systems and push the country on a new path of transparency and prosperity. In an interview, Toffler was asked about the inspiration for his 1970 book. He said that, while covering the Congress, it had occurred to him that big technological and social changes were occurring in the United States, but that the political system seemed totally blind to their existence. Between 1955 and 1960, the birth control pill was introduced, television became universal, commercial jet travel came into being and a whole raft of other technological events occurred. “Having spent several years watching the political process, we came away feeling that 99 per cent of what politicians do is keep systems running that were laid in place by previous generations of politicians.” His ideas were collated in an article, ‘The future as a way of life’, which argued that change was going to accelerate and that the speed of change could induce disorientation in lots of people. Toffler coined the phrase, ‘future shock’, as an analogy to the concept of culture shock.
Albeit in a different time, and context, but Modi certainly proved Toffler wrong with his big bang decision. Toffler had also said, “With future shock you stay in one place but your own culture changes so rapidly that it has the same disorienting effect as going to another culture.” The demonetisation announcement has done precisely that: Cause unprecedented shock among many, especially the status quoists and naysayers, who want to stick to inertia as it suits their agenda. It has triggered unusual disruptions to their social, economic and political equity besides throwing them out of their comforts. The exasperation, dislocation, and resistance to change is natural.
Even as economists and experts frenetically debate the outcome of this historic policy intervention – and common people try hard to adjust to this changed reality – one thing is certain. It is that the demonetisation move has triggered a spirited national dialogue on the elimination of black money. Everyone is today aware, and speaking about how this gigantic termite of black money has held sway over the Indian economy, and stunted her growth.
Each Indian is now aware of some of the most likely outcomes of this honest effort by Modi and his regime, of what Toffler would call, ‘Creating a New Civilisation’ – cleansing of the economy, windfall gains for the banks, and funneling back of the gained funds of approximately three to five lakh crore rupees into social sectors and easy loans. The consequences are not too complex to comprehend, unless one puts on a myopic sets of glasses. One is tempted to borrow another famous quote from Toffler, who wrote in his 1980 best-seller, The Third Wave, “A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it. This new civilization brings with it new family styles; changed ways of working, loving, and living; a new economy; new political conflicts; and beyond all this an altered consciousness as well…The dawn of this new civilization is the single most explosive fact of our lifetimes.”
Prime Minister Modi’s demonetisation decision is the most explosive fact of our lifetime, and one which is neither anti-poor or anti-people or pro-rich, as many sceptics would want us to believe. This is a Future Shock, and it’s for the good.
(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

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