[Alvin Toffler:The Third Wave. 1981. London: Pan Books in association with William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.]

Freedom means many things to many people. For me, freedom means having an understanding of the society in which I live: in particular, the extent to which I voluntarily adopt the various forms of socialization to which I am subject and the extent to which I involuntarily comply with them

My childhood was spent in the last decade of British colonialism and I grew to adulthood in the apartheid era. As a child, I accepted without question my status as an “Indian” (alien, other, not South African), so I questioned the values and norms of the community in which I lived. As a teenager and young adult, under the influence of my uncle MD Naidoo, and Pauline Morel, principal of Dartnell Crescent Junior School and members of her staff, I began to question the norms and values of apartheid. I understood on an obvious level that I lived in an exploitative and unjust system. I even joined in resistance activities against the system. Nevertheless, as I functioned in a racist environment, I complied with the racial division of society – living in a separate area, not mixing with people of other races, and accepting all kinds of inequity. That made me a racist even though I regarded racism as an evil.

My understanding of apartheid was superficial, based mainly on experience of the degradations of racist prejudice (a victim's view). I had no understanding of the forces that had brought about such a system or my collusion in it. We get caught up in in its logic which wedo not resist unless we are aware of it. Being unaware, we becomeslaves of the system. I realize now that most of my formal education had simply been a means of ensuring my adaptation to thelogic of the society in which I lived. My understanding of existence was totally subjective; I was ignorant of the organisational forces that give rise to societies and determine the way we think and act. I was unaware that these principles are reflected in all our conventions, our norms and values – the way we think and behave.

In 1988, when I went to teach at Giyani College of Education, Tom Swart and Lionel Berman introduced me to the works of Alvin Toffler and I finally woke up and realised I had been living on the surface without a real understanding of what it means to live in society. Now I see differently; now when I read Shakespeare and Dickens I want to understand their world views. When I first read their writings, I focussed on the stories, the events and anachronistically contextualised them in the conventional morality of our times rather than theirs. In a sense I had turned their writings into “who-dunnits” and had missed their understanding of human existence. I am thankful to Toffler for opening up my mind to much wider contexts.

I believe Toffler wants us to understand change, not simply the vicissitudes of everyday living, such as the evils of apartheid, but evolutionary change that impacts on all aspects of living and gives rise to such manifestations as apartheid. He wants us to be aware of the forces that programme the choices and decisions that we make. He wants us to understand that societal change is not arbitrary; it is evolutionary, one development leads to another in a continuous process that gives rise to the logic of a system. And change occurs in highs and lows. Hence his view of civilization as a succession of waves.

In The Third Wave, Toffler presents us with a panoramic understanding of evolutionary societal change – the new organisational principles that change society and impact on all we think, do, say and believe. He describes the progress of human civilization as a succession of waves. The First Wave was a slowly rising incline, that gave way to a tidal wave -- the Second Wave, which is giving way at an even sharper incline to the Third Wave. Each wave of development is defined by the technology it develops and the resulting logic of its systems.

As technology advances, it gives rise to new sets of developments, new systems and logics of processes. The Second Wave is the wave of Integration, like an assembly line in a factory. It is the wave of systems of interdependence, of interlocking institutions making possible more tightly knit control of individual behaviour. And we adopt mottos such as Eendrag maak Mag (Unity is Strength) and uphold teamwork.

Civilization began as a way of life based on agriculture – the First Wave. With the development of machinery it evolved into the industrial era – The Second Wave, and now civilization is in an electronic and nuclear age – the Third Wave. Technology is the engine of worldwide change; it gives rise to new ways of living, to new beliefs and dictates the pace at which life is lived.

In the First Wave, a predominantly agricultural age, technology was at an incipient stage and life was lived at a leisurely pace that lasted thousands of years – from almost the beginning of time to about the middle of the seventeenth century, about ten thousand years. In the Second Wave, energy in the form of electricity gave us superior and continually evolving machine technology and the pace of life became much faster and required a complete reorganization of society in all its aspects from government and economics to family life and individual relations. Industrialization, which replaced the economy based on agriculture, has been the dominant mode of existence for about three centuries. In the twentieth century, the development of computer technology brought in the Third Wave and with it came new principles and worldwide changes. The principles that underpinned the Second Wave are being challenged at all levels and we are into a new logic that dictates new systems and living conditions. And change is occurring at a speed that has led to confusion and conflict. While some move forward, others cling to old ways.

At present we are in a clash of waves as the Third Wave overtakes the Second Wave and the conflicts and turmoil that we are experiencing are a result of the clash.

    • An understanding of the conflicts produced by these colliding wave fronts gives us not only a clearer image of alternative futures but an x-ray of the political and social forces acting on us. (The Third Wave,30)
    • Once we realize that a bitter struggle is now raging between those who seek to preserve industrialism and those who seek to supplant it, we have a powerful new key to understanding the world. (The Third Wave,32)
    • We shall see that Second Wave civilization was not an accidental jumble of components, but a system with parts that interacted with each other in more or less predictable ways – and that the fundamental patterns of industrial life were the same in country after country, regardless of cultural heritage or political difference ... both ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ (capitalist and socialist) (32)

Toffler states, “The precondition of any civilization, old or new, is energy.” (The Third Wave, 39).“All societies – primitive, agricultural or industrial – use energy; they make things; they distribute things. In all societies the energy system, the production system, and the distribution system are interrelated parts of something larger. This larger system is the techno-sphere, and it has a characteristic form at each stage of development.” (41)

In the First Wave (39 - 41)

Energy The energy that powered The First Wave was from “human and animal power ...sun, wind and water” power. All these were renewable sources of energy.Production: Goods were handmade, created on a custom basis, one at a time for individual and personal consumption.Distribution. Goods were distributed to individuals by pedlars or by wagon or from tiny shops with very limited stocks. As communication (there were no post offices and telephones) and transport (animal-drawn vehicles) were very limited, markets remained localised catering for small communities.

In the Second Wave

  • Energy Fossil fuels – coal, gas, oil – irreplaceable sources of energy.
  • Production: Machine-made goods produced in factories on assembly lines– identical products, not created for the individual, but standardised for general consumption. Speeded up production and standardisation gave us mass produced goods.
  • Distribution: Development of a market economy

ProductionÂÂwas split fromConsumption.

  • This split provided the impetus for the reorganization of society; it was the foundation on which Second Wave culture was built.
  • In the First Wave, people were both producers and consumers. They consumed a vast amount of what they produced and put a small amount up for sale. Goods and procedures were individualized and were developed for use not for exchange.
  • In the Second Wave production was separated from consumption. Goods and procedures were standardised to serve mass consumption. Machines and factories made mass production possible and mass production needed wide distribution. When “the purpose of production shiftedfrom use to exchange, there had to be a mechanism through which that exchange could take place. There had to be a market.” (54)
  • The split between consumption and production led to a series of interlocking developments that led to the institutionalization of society.
  • Marketization – goods were mass produced for wide consumption
  • Transportsystems were developed, beginning first with the invention of the train to carry goods to greater distances.
  • Postal System As distribution spread over vast areas there was greater need for efficient and speedy communication, so a Postal System was developed.
  • The Nuclear Family: Labour was required for the factories and that changed the nature of the family. Extended families had been required in the agricultural period but in the machine age, families lost access to land and were concentrated in factory towns. Families were streamlined to facilitate factory production. So the Nuclear Family parents with few children – came into being.
  • Division of labour. Work was divided into component parts and spread over assembly lines that required the alignment of workers for the alignment of work – fitting parts together.
  • Education To ensure a continuous labour supply for the factories, Educationwas developed to prepare children for factory-type work. So schools came into being, basically to teach children to be punctual, obedient, and tolerant of repetitious work (through rote-learning). [Dickens’ novel Hard Times is a scathing attack on the education system which he saw as completely dehumanising.]
  • Corporations. Out of the need to integrate the division of labour, came managers and the development of Corporations which controlled all aspects of production..
  • Mass Media As these developments were interdependent, the economy required massive exchanges of information. At first there was the post office, then the Telephone and Telegraph and that led to the development of the Mass Media, newspaper, radio and television.
  • The Effect of the Split between Production and Consumption on Society
  • “The Second Wave like some nuclear chain reaction, violently split apart two aspects of our lives that had always, until then, been one ... it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches, and even our sexual selves.” (51)

A Schizophrenic Society?

    • ... At one level, the industrial revolution created a marvellously integrated social system with its own distinctive technologies ... social institutions ... information channels.
    • another level, it ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension, social conflict, and psychological malaise.” (51)

Society reflected a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the breaking up of wholes into parts that were then reintegrated into new wholes.

Economic Tension

The Split led to the fastest rise in living standards.People were sucked into the money system; commercial values became central, economic growth became the primary goal of governments – implementation of GNP (Gross National Product). Paradox: demands of managers and workers for higher profits, wages, benefits contradicted demands of consumers (who include managers and workers) for lower prices.

Social, Cultural Tension

  • “the new society ‘left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest; than callous “cash payment”. Personal relationships, family bonds, love, friendship, neighbourly and community ties all became tinctured or corrupted by commercial self-interest. ... the obsessive concern with money, goods, and things is a reflection not of capitalism or socialism, but of industrialism ... and the central role of the marketplace.” ... not only products are bought, sold, traded, and exchanged, but labour, ideas, art and souls as well.” (55) [Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray present in their novels the obsessive concern with money.]
  • “Instead of a society based on friendship, kinship, or tribal or feudal allegiance, there arose in the wake of the Second Wave a civilization based on contractual ties, actual or implied. Even husbands and wives today speak of marital contracts.” (56)

[It seems that in the First Wave, there was an understanding of dichotomous good and evil. In the Second Wave, it seems, that the split between consumption and production led to a kind of schizophrenic society. There was no longer the clear separation of good from evil, good became integrated and that gave rise to such works as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and more complex characterizations in novels. And it seems that psychology and psychiatry developed as a consequence of the split. Both psychology and psychiatry depend on standardized notions of human behaviour.]

The Sexual Split

The Sexual split follows from the split between production and consumption.

  • In First Wave societies most work was performed in the fields or in the home, with the entire household toiling together as an economic unit. Work life and home life were fused and intermingled. And since each village was largely self-sufficient, the success of peasants in one place was not dependent upon what happened in another. ... work... was characterized by low levels of interdependency. (56-7)

In other words, everyone in the home worked and all work was considered equally valuable.

The Second Wave shifted work from field and home to factory. And introduced a much higher level in interdependency. Work now demanded collective effort, division of labour, coordination, the integration of many different skills....

  • ... More and more, production was transferred to the factory and office. ... Second Wave work overshadowed the old backward form associated with the First Wave. (57)

The home, the place of work of women, remained a place of low-interdependency. Housewives produced for the home, for personal consumption, not for the market so “the home remained a decentralised unit engaged in biological reproduction, ... childrearing ... cultural transmission.” (58)

    • Sexual differences and sex role stereotypes, ... were sharpened by the misleading identification of men with production and women with consumption.
    • ...As the husband , by and large, marched off to do direct economic work, the wife generally stayed behind to do the indirect economic work ... The man took responsibility for the historically more advanced form of work; the woman was left behind to take care of the older, more backward form of work.”
    • ... Men prepared from boyhood for their role in the shop, where they would move in a world of interdependencies, were encouraged to become ‘objective’. Women, prepared from birth for the tasks of reproduction, childrearing, and household drudgery, performed to a considerable degree in social isolation, were taught to be ‘subjective’ – and were frequently regarded as incapable of the kind of rational, analytic thought that supposedly went with objectivity. (58) [This view of women is clearly demonstrated and stated in the film Changeling]

Men were identified with production and women with consumption. Women were relegated to the First Wave while men were promoted to the Second Wave and considered superior.

  • “Not surprisingly, women who did leave the relative isolation of the household to engage in interdependent production (factory/office-type work) were often accused of having been defeminized, of having grown cold, tough and – objective.” (58)

[Colonialism extended this understanding of superiority and inferiority to races. Colonialists were of the Second Wave while the people they conquered were of the First Wave, limited to consumption rather than production, with no market or interdependent institutions, and, therefore, considered inferior.]

The Hidden Code of the Second Wave

  • “Every civilization has a hidden code – a set of principles that run through all its activities like a repeated design. As industrialism pushed across the planet, its unique hidden design became visible. It consisted of six interrelated principles that programmed the behaviour of millions. Growing naturally out of the divorce of production and consumption, these principles affected every aspect of life from sex and sports to work and war.” (59)

The Six Principles of the Second Wave.

1. Standardization (Ibid., 60-2)Standardization was the production of identical products and processes.ÂÂÂÂÂÂProducts made in factories, clothes, food, light bulbs, and soÂÂÂÂÂÂon. Processes. Systems were created that followed identical routines with identical requirements, rewards and penalties: i.e. government bureaucracies, the postal service, medical procedures, patent medicines, weights and measures, the currency, wages and hiring, working conditions (tea breaks, lunch hours, vacations), the mass media that reported the same news, displayed the same advertisements; the development of statistics and opinion polls and education – children were placed in standards, curricula were standardized, so were exams and promotions.

2. Specialization (62-4)Division of labour and assembly lines where each worker performed the same task over and over, a task which was one part in a process, led to specialization and specialization to professionalization, i.e. expertise in one aspect of knowledge and practice.

3. Synchronization (64-6)Division of labour and assembly lines led to synchronization of tasks, and to the need for punctuality. Work and Education were controlled by the whistle or the bell. There were set times for work and study. Work came to be standardized as a 9-5 occupation. Synchronised work required punctuality and clocks and watches became part of everyday life. Social life was driven by the clock, set times for rising and sleeping, meals, vacations etc. Mass transport was controlled by time -- bus and train schedules. Broadcasts followed a time pattern; prime time, news time, children’s programs etc.

Women and country folk, seen as people of the First Wave, not programmed by time, became associated with unpunctuality and unreliability.

4. Concentration (67—68)

The Second Wave depended on concentrated energy (factories, offices) and that led to concentration of populations in urban centres and then to other forms of concentration: prisons, schools, old age homes, asylums etc. Concentration of capital led to the development of large industrial corporations such as car, food , cigarette, transport companies.And the Central Bank

5.Maximization (68-70)The greater the production, the greater the profits.Bigger factories, companies, workforces, bigger buildings, skyscrapers, bigger cities.Bigger economies – development of the Gross National Product to increase production