Alvin Toffler, New opportunities for individuation

Society’s leap to a new level of differentiation necessarily brings with it new opportunities for individuation, and the new technology, the new temporary organizational forms, cry out for a new breed of man. This is why, despite “backlash” and temporary reversals, the line of social advance carries us toward a wider tolerance, a more easy acceptance of more and more diverse human types.

The sudden popularity of the slogan “do your thing” is a reflection of this historic movement. For the more fragmented or differentiated the society, the greater the number of varied life styles it promotes. And the more socially accepted life style models put forth by the society, the closer that society approaches a condition in which, in fact, each man does his own, unique thing.

Thus, despite all the anti-technological rhetoric of the Elluls and Fromms, the Mumfords and Marcuses, it is precisely the super-industrial society, the most advanced technological society ever, that extends the range of freedom. The people of the future enjoy greater opportunities for self-realization than any previous group in history.

The new society offers few roots in the sense of truly enduring relationships. But it does offer more varied life niches, more freedom to move in and out of these niches, and more opportunity to create one’s own niche, than all earlier societies put together. It also offers the supreme exhilaration of riding change, cresting it, changing and growing with it—a process infinitely more exciting than riding the surf, wrestling steers, playing “knock hubcaps” on an eight-lane speedway, or the pursuit of pharmaceutical kicks. It presents the individual with a contest that requires self-mastery and high intelligence. For the individual who comes armed with these, and who makes the necessary effort to understand the fast emerging super-industrial social structure, for the person who finds the “right” life pace, the “right” sequence of sub-cults to join and life style models to emulate, the triumph is exquisite.

Undeniably, these grand words do not apply to the majority of men. Most people of the past and present remain imprisoned in life niches they have neither made nor have much hope, under present conditions, of ever escaping. For most human beings, the options remain excruciatingly few.

This imprisonment must—and will—be broken. Yet it will not be broken by tirades against technology. It will not be broken by calls for a return to passivity, mysticism and irrationality. It will not be broken by “feeling” or “intuiting” our way into the future while derogating empirical study, analysis, and rational effort. Rather than lashing out, Luddite-fashion, against the machine, those who genuinely wish to break the prison-hold of the past and present would do well to hasten the controlled—selective—arrival of tomorrow’s technologies. To accomplish this, however, intuition and “mystical insights” are hardly enough. It will take exact scientific knowledge, expertly applied to the crucial, most sensitive points of social control. Nor does it help to offer the principle of the maximization of choice as the key to freedom. We must consider the possibility, suggested here, that choice may become overchoice, and freedom unfreedom.