Living with 'Future Shock'

A few month back, my cell phone rang and there was a text message from a friend 700 miles away, saying that Linda had died. For years, she was our picnic table companion during the summer months at the John Brown Farm, a New York State Historic Site, in the town of North Elba.

The news saddened us greatly. In older times the information would have reached us much more slowly, and may have lessened the shock. Alas, nowadays there is no letup in being the recipient of news happening around the world the instant it is taking place.

Especially if you are a news junkie as I am who subscribes to online editions of newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Press, The Virginia Gazette as well as some periodicals. Thus, the news of Linda's death was followed by a flash report about an Islamic State-inspired attack in Nice, France, on the French Riviera, that killed 84 people and wounded more than 200.

Mohamed Bouhlel, a native of Tunisia, radicalized by ISIS, drove a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day on Promenade des Anglais, a boulevard along the Mediterranean Sea. In the past, during our vacations on the French Riviera, my wife and I often had our afternoon coffee at the sidewalk cafe of Hotel Le Negresco, a stone's throw away from where people died.

The dispatch from Nice was soon fused with reports about the killings of two black men by the police, one in Baton Rouge, La., the other in Minnesota. It didn't take long before reports of retaliatory killings of police officers in several cities across the country, reached us.

Turmoil in the word that included an attempted military coup in Turkey, a member of NATO and important ally of the United States, dominated the airwaves for a while. This was mixed with reports of a series of suicide bombing in Baghdad and Kabul. And over the past four years, we've had daily doses of carnage in Syria and the videos of refugees downing in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing their homelands.

All this and much more that we encounter in our daily lives validates Alvin Toffler's analysis of the impact the rapid pace of change has on human beings. In "Future Shock," published in 1970, Toffler, who recently died at age 87, predicted that the Information Age that started in the 1950s would bring too much change in a too short a time. He warned of the danger of "informational tsunamis to come and the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future."

He had forecast that humans would be overwhelmed by the pace of change in everything from technology to politics to the instant reporting of the news from around the world.

In his book, he described society's development as a series of waves, from agricultural revolution, to industrial revolution, to the Information Age. His critics, however, maintained that his assessment of humans' ability to adapt to the pace of change was wrong.

Indeed, people seem to adapt.

In the 1970s, I was sent to Bermuda to report on the presentation of the Queens Honours. In London, the Honours are presented in June, on the Queen's official birthday. But in Bermuda the ceremony was in November.

The honours system was created in 1348 by Edward III. Since then, the awards at British Overseas Territories have been presented by the Governor. But not on the birthday of the reigning monarch. Instead, it happens months later, after the arrival of the ship carrying the signed documents.

Nowadays, bowing to the technological age, the Queens Honours are presented in June, in Bermuda.

Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com

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