The 40-Year Old Prophecy That Came True (Education, Career, Science, Internet Subcultures)

Are you future shocked“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

~William Gibson 

We live in interesting times.

Like I said in my recent discussion with Billionaire Martin Sandquist, I believe many people are “Future Shocked”:

Ludvig: I think one super interesting aspect is how most people, going back to what you were saying before about the importance of reading books, a lot of people, they have a lot of shallow knowledge but they don’t have any strong patterns or models in their head. Everything seems new to them. Then because of that, they want some authority to simplify things for them.

Martin: Yes, exactly.

Ludvig: I think we’re seeing social media do that in a lot of cases.

Martin: Yes, that’s definitely sure.

Mikael: Maybe just because there is so much information available, you tend to focus more on the present since–even if all the information is available to you, there isn’t room in your head for looking back more than a few years.

This term, “Future Shocked” comes from the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. I recommend you to read it, even if you haven’t already read my book Breaking out of Homeostasis.

The two books are perfect companions. Toffler’s book is about wide social implications (and as relevant 40 years ago when it was written as it is now), while my book is hyper-individualistic, about how you can become successful in the current world order.

Many of the trends and social patterns we are now living through were predicted in Future Shock (read on for specific examples).

Another good book is “The 4th Turning” (a book Martin recommends, about cyclical historical patterns created through the interplay between generations). 1

Future Shock

Now I will give you some specific examples (excerpts) from “Future Shock”, followed by my interpretation (implications). You will recognize many of these trends, but if you thought they were new, you’d be wrong.

While we tend to focus on only one situation at a time, the increased rate at which situations flow past us vastly complicates the entire structure of life, multiplying the number of roles we must play and the number of choices we are forced to make. This, in turn, accounts for the choking sense of complexity about contemporary life.

Implication: This is driving the “Simplification” trend.

It explains why companies like Apple are so profitable, or why George Bush, Obama and Donald Trump’s public personas are popular with the people. (Easy, Authoritative, Yes We Can.)

Now, for THE biggest and most accurate prediction Toffler made, which has came true with a vengeance:

We are, in fact, living through a “subcult explosion.

It is easy to ridicule a hippie or an uneducated young man who is willing to suffer 700 stitches in an effort to test and “find” himself. Yet we are all rodeo riders or hippies in one sense: we, too, search for identity by attaching ourselves to informal cults, tribes or groups of various kinds. And the more numerous the choices, the more difficult the quest.

This intensification of the problem of overchoice presses us toward orgies of self-examination, soul-searching and introversion. It confronts us with that most popular of contemporary illnesses, the “identity crisis.” Never before have masses of men faced a more complex set of choices. The hunt for identity arises not out of the supposed choicelessness of “mass society,” but precisely from the plenitude and complexity of our choices.

Implication: A sense of belonging before the Internet. No forums. No social media platforms. We can now belong to numerous communities (and most people do). The problem has reversed into a lack of commitment. Most people are so lazy it makes me sick. This is also why social cohesion is poor (voting at an all-time low), there is no longer a shared ideology (compared to when the state could impose a top-down message via newspapers, radio, and TV–like when Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler, or Stalin ruled).

Implication 2: Toffler wrote this 40 years ago, and it was from the backdrop of the “Consciousness Movement”. This was a very socially irresponsible era (when lots of people suddenly questioned the norm of working 9-5 and being married; the result was job-hopping, the dissolution of marriages, and many unhappy children (see: the latch-key generation)).

Let’s delve deeper into subcults:

Traveling is the drug of movement. 2

Some prefer to disengage, to idle at their own speed

The quietism and search for new ways to “opt out”

Implication: Can you see which 3 popular (niche?) movements these genetic drives have spawned? Digital Nomads, Lone Traders, and Minimalists. (not sure those are the “correct” names, but I think you understand).

Given enough time, money and, for some of these, technical skill, the men of tomorrow will be capable of playing in ways never dreamed of before. They will play strange sexual games. They will play games with the mind. They will play games with society. And in so doing, by choosing among the unimaginably broad options, they will form subcults and further set themselves off from one another. 3

Implication: Think of Burning Man, it combines all.

Implication 2: I think this is mostly a good thing. Diversity is good, so long as it leads to more experimentation and innovation. But it becomes a bad thing once the feedback loop reverses, and begins to breed similarity (and this always happens, which is why underground forums and new music genres degrade once popular–and then people flock to them for the wrong reasons; not from curiosity or personal exploration, but associative status and wanting to fit in).

The ethical, moral and political questions raised by the new biology simply boggle the mind.

  • Who shall live and who shall die?
  • What is man?
  • Who shall control research into these fields?
  • Might we unleash horrors for which man is totally unprepared?
  • Should we try to breed a better race? If so, exactly what is “better?” Says who?

Implication: Again, written 40 years ago! But has become a big topic in the last two years. Meanwhile, this is (probably) already happening in secret labs. No one can stop smart and curious people.

In the words of Dr.Rollin D. Hotchkiss of the Rockefeller Institute: “Many of us feel instinctive revulsion at the hazards of meddling with the finely balanced and far-reaching systems that make an individual what he is. Yet I believe it will surely be done or attempted. The pathway will be built from a combination of altruism, private profit and ignorance.” To this list, worse yet, he might have added political conflict and bland unconcern.

Implication: People can’t help meddling with complex systems when personal profit is involved. Or winning a war.

Cyborg questions:

  • what happens to our age-old definitions of “human-ness?”
  • How will it feel to be part protoplasm and part transistor?
  • What happens to the mind when the body is changed?

Implication: Same as before. Again, this was 40 years ago. The popular debate is now catching on.

Now, let’s move on to the education system: Toffler was of the same opinion as me when he wrote that–

Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by industrialism to produce the kind of adults it needed.

And what the world now needs is:

Men who can make critical judgments, who can weave their way through novel environments, who are quick to spot new relationships in the rapidly changing reality.

Implication: People (especially students) need to understand they are taking a risk when undertaking an education. The risk is: Will this competence be useful 10 years from now?

Implication 2: Some of the skills needed now are sense-making, decision-taking, synthesis, and basic entrepreneurial skills (for those already confident to get started at an early age). At the bottom of the article, you’ll find some helpful resources.

A recent study reveals that job turnover rates for scientists and engineers in the research and development industry in the United States are approximately twice as high as for the rest of American industry. At Westinghouse, for example, it is believed that the “half-life” of a graduate engineer is only ten years—meaning that half of what he has learned will be outdated within a decade.

Implication: This was when the over-specialization of science had just begun. Very prescient!

It’s now going stronger than ever. I write about it in the final chapter of BOOH. You have to future-proof your career. You can do this in three ways:

  1. Build a strong social network, to the point where you are valuable by virtue of who you know, not for what you can actually do,
  2. Find your top talent and learn force-amplifiers. Then transferable skills (useful everywhere).
  3. Hyperspecialize in 1 area. (For those who know early.)

Here’s an archetype for each approach: Klaus Schwab, Richard Feynman, and Nikola Tesla.

These are timeless success methods, and, if you can stick to just one of them over the years, regardless of a fast-changing and uncertain future, your career will be safe and will go upward. This is in my opinion what universities should be teaching. We cover this a lot in the Future Skills Podcast.

Beyond this, Demby asserts, manufacturers are devoting more attention to reducing tensions that accompany the use of certain products. Manufacturers of sanitary napkins, for example, know that women have a fear of stopping up the toilet when disposing of them. “A new product has been developed,” he says, “that instantly dissolves on contact with water. It doesn’t perform its basic function any better. But it relieves some of the anxiety that went with it. This is psychological engineering if ever there was any!”

Implication: This type of “meaningful” job is now very common–and will continue to be needed–in a heterogeneous, global consumer society.

On Future Shock:

In the last part of the book (Part 5: Limits to Adaptability) Toffler even gets into Coping Mechanisms!

Where Future Shock ends, Breaking out of Homeostasis begins. Therefore, I think you should really read this book, even if you haven’t read my book.

I will leave you with this one last excerpt, as it provides an interesting contrast to my theories….

It’s impossible to produce future shock in large numbers of individuals without affecting the rationality of the society as a whole.

Could this explain recent phenomena like “Fake News” and “Filter Bubbles”?

Toffler then describes 4 types of long-term coping methods he thought would characterize the future:

1) Denial

2) Specialize

3) Revert to past

4) The super simplifier

I think we can see a mixture of all four in most people.

Concluding thoughts:

I hope you see how slowly popular culture moves. This is why I was so curious to hear Martin Sandquist’s opinions on whether social media speeds up the evolution of popular culture, or if it nullifies itself by creating more debate (which only causes more confusion for most people).

People in the financial community have been worried about rising debt and the printing of paper money since early 2000. Pop culture still hasn’t caught on. The timing of global trends is notoriously difficult. (“When will people realize that XYZ is happening!?”)

There’s access to more information than ever before, but people are only more confused. This is because they don’t have the right patterns in their head. They lack a philosophical framework to make sense of what’s going on 4, and think everything is new under the sun.

That said, I have two firm beliefs about the next 10 years: (1) the big career trend is free-agentism and small teams of collaborators using technology and (2) the individual has to take more responsibility for his/her career and education.

It will get bad for lazy people.

For anyone in high school, considering a university education, or having just started university, check out these free resources of mine:

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to give a rating/review for Future Skills!

  1. As an interesting side-note, this book has also been recommended by Tony Robbins and Steve Bannon.

  2. and also: variation, novelty, and randomness.

  3.  There is another book I read years ago, on this particular topic, written by Jean-Noël Kapferrer (considered the King of Luxury Brands). I forget the name, but his big discovery was: brands and subcults will forever exist. There are no historical examples of functioning societies that are equal. Man must have class division. Napoleon understood this too.

  4. they never acquire expert pattern recognition for anything and remain as despondent dilettantes.

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  1. Diamond Suit says:

    Hey Ludvig

    Before you read this, bear in mind I am a long-time reader. I also want to say that even though I’m older than you I’ve benefited a lot from your advice. Especially your approach to building a framework around learning and thinking.

    Having read your take on education I think that your approach works best for the following groups of people:

    1: Ambitious/motivated people (goal-oriented)
    2: Curious people (enjoy learning for its own sake)
    3: Those who already have a skill set to build on.

    That still excludes lots of people in a public system. Imagine if a new school system was built around some of the ideas you mention, what would you do with the remaining people who end up as “generalists without a cause”? How would it be different than outdated experts?

    Even so, let us assume that means of production become much more effective and we all live in materialistic abundance (say 20 years from now), which would imply that for most people having a job won’t be mandatory. In that case, don’t you think the point of school should be to make students curious to find things out on their own? It will become more motivational.

    • Hey,

      Those are GREAT questions, and I appreciate the feedback, but I don’t have a good answer at this moment.

      The short answer is you’re right and I agree on the motivational part. This is why blogs and social media profiles are peaking.

      As for the 3 groups of people being excluded, I think that’s inevitable. It’s always been that way and always will be. All successful people find their own motivation, become infinite learners, and then good things happen down the road as they discover new things.

      Still, I need to think about this more.

      • Diamond Suit says:

        Thank you for the quick reply. Best be assured I understand it’s a hard question so you take your time.

        In the meantime I hope you will accept this rant of mine after having taken part of your thoughts for years.
        ● Your articles about history got me to realize how it can connect the dots better.
        ●I have always been in the top of what I was doing, looking for ways to get ahead, but this one surprised me. Funny enough now I can back everything up. When I give a sales presentation (and I give many both IRL and via Webinars) I can answer the “root” of people’s questions. Not just what they ask for, but what comes before it.
        ●Feynman is a great role model for what the school system should produce.
        ●Your book is very good. If you email me on my private adress I can tell you more.
        ●I enjoyed your creativity experiment and am now undertaking it.

        (Writing this message on my phone)

        Hope to see you some day and looking forward to your response.

    • Abgrund says:

      What to do with ordinary people will be one of the biggest questions this century has to face. We have already reached the point in the West where most people are not able to make any real contribution beyond menial chores – and there’s only so much demand for maids and painters. The automation of manufacturing has been interrupted by the availability of Asian slave labor, but if manufacturing were brought back to (America, in my case) it wouldn’t mean forty million factory jobs paying American scale wages, it would mean forty thousand jobs for experts in robotics.

      You hypothesize that having a job won’t be necessary – but what then? Every facet of society throughout history has been built on the foundational reality that human labor has value. When 98% of humanity has nothing to offer the productive 2%, how much will be arrogated to them and why? Who will decide this?

      We’re already heading down that path, and our current institutions do not seem well suited to deal with it.

      • Diamond Suit says:

        You write:
        ‘You hypothesize that having a job won’t be necessary – but what then?”

        What about a society based on creativity, fun,
        I know this is not a new notion, but assuming material abundance 20 years from now, why not? What else is there to do? Entertainment of course, but the pull towards doing that may not be so strong anymore if you don’t have to work for a living 5 days of the week or more. If material things are cheaper and easier to obtain, isn’t it reasonable to guess that most people will be naturally inclined towards things like creativity and artistic expression and social belonging? As you say, it might not be productive in a measurable way or financially successful, but perhaps it can make people more happy.

        You also say:
        “our current institutions do not seem well suited to deal with it.”

        Yes that is perhaps true.

      • Material abundance is not the problem. The problem is that literally everything about humanity is grounded on the opposite.

        Six decades ago Galbraith anticipated such a crisis – i.e., of too much affluence. His specific prognostications were perhaps premature and his proposals unrealistic, but he nailed the basic problem. The financial crisis of 2008 illustrated it well. The modern economy is fueled almost entirely by spending on luxuries (and largely on credit, which is another severe liability). When public confidence is shaken, spending (and thus incomes, GDP, etc.) can contract drastically and instantly because (except for non-productive transfer payments to landlords) most spending is optional.

        Wouldn’t it be great to have a three-day work week and a life of creativity and fun? But this could very easily have been achieved thirty or more years ago. What happened was the opposite – employed Americans (at least) work more hours than ever for less and less reward. That’s just the law of supply and demand (combined with an infinite supply of Asian slave labor and the introduction of women into the workforce on a huge scale, but the end result would be the same).

        When every object of consumption must be earned from other humans, but high efficiency means that our true need for each others’ work is small in proportion to our numbers, it should be evident why we are working harder and harder to compete among ourselves. Something fundamental needs to change.

  2. So how do I get the right patterns in your head?

  3. It’s almost scary how you could predict some of these big trends without knowing that the internet or social media would be developed.

    The jobs part is spot on also.

    As far as the biology and cyborg parts, as you know there are two popular books about this by Yuval Harrari: Sapiens and Homo Deus. He tries to answer the same questions. Nothing much new, but lots of fun trivia.

    This is one of your best articles, in my opinion.

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