History

A short follow up to my recent post: Recently I’ve been reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (written around 1970). It examines the accelerating rate of change in society, including the increased mobility of people, the evermore dynamic structures of organizations, and the impermanence of many aspects of life that may otherwise have been considered “points of reference” to people. Other than the fact that it’s usually fun to read what a futurologist of the past said about the future, apparently he is the one who coined the term “information overload;” a term he uses when describing a state where the prosperity of choice imprisons, rather than liberates, people. Here is a quote from the book:

“Thus in the mid-sixties, Joseph Naughton, a mathematician and computer specialist at the University of Pittsburgh suggested a system that would store a consumer’s profile- data about his occupation and interests- in a central computer. Machines would then scan newspapers, magazines, video tapes, films and other material, match them against the individual’s interest profile, and instantaneously notify him when something appears that concerns him. The system could be hitched to facsimile machines and TV transmitters [...] mass communication, under a system like this, is demassified.”

He is probably pointing to the earliest call for recommender systems. However, I don’t think I agree with his theory- that the accelerating rate of change will induce future shock- as people become unable to keep up with the cultural, organizational, technological, and (even moral?) changes that surround them. Any thoughts? Have recommender systems, that address just one aspect of this change (exponential growth of information) reached the stage of becoming a psychological necessity to people?

By the way, Toffler’s book was made into an interesting short film (starring none other than Orson Wells), which can be found on YouTube (part 1 is here) , there is an interesting blog that looks at the way people in the past viewed the future and the times we live in – and the first call for RecSys 2008 is out.

2 Responses to “History”

  1. Unfortunately, I haven’t read Toffler’s book yet but I don’t completely buy his thesis. Indeed I would flip it. Instead of “big changes cause shocks”, I would say “shocks cause (help) big changes”. And that is similar to the thesis of Naomi Klein’s latest book. The book comes with a sterling 6-minute video. “The Shock Doctrine is a six-minute film written by the author Naomi Klein and the director Alfonso Cuarón … The brief movie encapsulates the thesis of a new book of the same title by Ms. Klein: That unconstrained free-market policies go hand in hand with undemocratic political policies. … Western countries, along with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, essentially exploited disasters — hyperinflation, the tsunami, the war in Iraq — to force through radical changes like privatization, deregulation and severe cuts in social spending.”

  2. Today, Jacques Attali was interviewed at BBC HardTalk. Tellingly, he said: “The only way to reform France is to have a shock”.