Alvin Toffler, Victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: overchoice

The Super-industrial Revolution will consign to the archives of ignorance most of what we now believe about democracy and the future of human choice. Today in the techno-societies there is an almost ironclad consensus about the future of freedom. Maximum individual choice is regarded as the democratic ideal. Yet most writers predict that we shall move further and further from this ideal. They conjure up a dark vision of the future, in which people appear as mindless consumer-creatures, surrounded by standardized goods, educated in standardized schools, fed a diet of standardized mass culture, and forced to adopt standardized styles of life.

Such predictions have spawned a generation of future-haters and technophobes, as one might expect. One of the most extreme of these is a French religious mystic, Jacques Ellul, whose books are enjoying a campus vogue. According to Ellul, man was far freer in the past when “Choice was a real possibility for him.” By contrast, today, “The human being is no longer in any sense the agent of choice.” And, as for tomorrow: “In the future, man will apparently be confined to the role of a recording device.” Robbed of choice, he will be acted upon, not active. He will live, Ellul warns, in a totalitarian state run by a velvet-gloved Gestapo.

This same theme—the loss of choice—runs through much of the work of c. It is repeated by everyone from hippie gurus to Supreme Court justices, tabloid editorialists and existentialist philosophers. Put in its simplest form, this Theory of Vanishing Choice rests on a crude syllogism: Science and technology have fostered standardization.

Science and technology will advance, making the future even more standardized than the present. Ergo: Man will progressively lose his freedom of choice. If instead of blindly accepting this syllogism, we stop to analyze it, however, we make an extraordinary discovery. For not only is the logic itself faulty, the entire idea is premised on sheer factual ignorance about the nature, the meaning and the direction of the Superindustrial Revolution.

Ironically, the people of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice, but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: overchoice.

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