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Future Shock’ Author Alvin Toffler Dies at 87

LOS ANGELES — Alvin Toffler, the far-seeing futurist who predicted humanity's rising anxiety with digital and technological progress in his hugely influential 1970 book "Future Shock," has died at the age of 87, his consulting company confirmed Wednesday.

Toffler — who is also credited with having coined the term "information overload" to describe people's struggle to keep up with exponentially expanding data — died Monday night at his home in Los Angeles, Toffler Associates said in a statement it released at the request of Toffler's widow, Heidi Toffler. No cause of death was given.

IMAGE: Alvin Toffler in 1998
Alvin Toffler during a talk at the Astrobiology Roadmap Workshop in Mountain View, California, in July 1998. Paul Sakuma / AP

"Future Shock" sold millions of copies at a time when society was in churn, amid riots over the Vietnam War, the maturation of the civil rights movement and the growth of centralized mass media. Toffler defined the phenomenon as "too much change in too short a period of time."

The book was the fruit of five years of work that began in 1965 with the publication of a magazine article titled "The Future as a Way of Life." It posited that human society was in transition to a globalized "post-industrial" age in which the majority of human activity was devoted to services, scholarship and creativity, as opposed to agrarian and manual labor.

Soon, he wrote, the post-industrial economy would give way to a knowledge-based "new economy," characterized by the ever-accelerating pace of daily life, the pulling apart of the traditional family, rapid changes in business and politics and the ascendance of technology in daily affairs.

Many commentators and scholars contend that all of those predictions — which were expanded upon in two influential followup best-sellers, "The Third Wave" (1980) and "Powershift" (1990) — have already come true.

Toffler, a former newspaper reporter and editor, had a gift for boiling down his complicated theories into easy-to-swallow nostrums, which immensely helped spread his philosophies. Among his pithy observations were these:

  • "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. "
  • "If you don't have a strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy."
  • "Change is not merely necessary to life — it is life."
  • "It is no longer resources that limit decisions, it is the decision that makes the resources."

And perhaps most famous: "The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order."

In a 2002 interview with ComputerWorld magazine, Toffler surveyed the landscape and declared:

"There is no one driving force that is always the driving force. What's happening today is not just an incremental, straight-line extrapolation of what's happened until now. This is something new, transformatory. If this is really an IT revolution, then the one thing you don't expect is linear change. You expect ups and downs, surprises, zigzags, inversions. A revolution is an upheaval."

"It's difficult to find an aspect of modern life not touched by his work," Deborah Westphal, chief executive of Toffler Associates, said Wednesday. "We are ever mindful of his influence as we navigate a world marked by widening artificial intelligence, globally connected societies and a quickening pace of change."

A private burial will be held in Los Angeles, the company said.