Wednesday, September 24, 2008

3rd Wave

I recently finished an intriguing book called Third Wave by Alvin Toffler. He details three distinct "Waves" in history. The first is agricultural, the second is industrial..then there is now.

He details the huge changes between the first two waves and talks about how we can use those to anticipate the changes of the future. In discussing the changes between the first two waves he identifies one main force in the changes; the division of production and consumption. In the first wave extended family lived together. The home was the heart of society. Marriage was largely a practical concept...with marriage partners looking for survival skills and health, or in the upper classes aliances. A majority of what was produced by the family unit stayed and supported the family. Time was measured cyclically with the seasons. Education was hard work and primarily at home or with tutors or small groups. Trade was the most common market function.

Then came the second wave. The factory is the primary symbol of the second wave. Mass production separated production and consumption. There was a need for a marketplace-intermediary people. Work was predominantly away from home and with the growing marketplace, and need for intermediaries and management, more people were separated from actual production. Success was measurable and focused on the bottom line. The nuclear family became the norm, with a father, mother and children moving to where the work was and away from their extended family. Public schools took children away from home, and with less property to manage a woman's role was further dimished. Marraige became focused on attraction and romantic love. Time was measured linearly, with progress the goal. Education became preparation for work and schools bear an intentional likeness to the factory with promptness and assimilation being taught alongside reading and writing.

In the third wave Toffler anticipates a Prosumer...people working from home and reclaiming responsibility for their education and production.

What fascinated me most of this discussion was the role of woman. In the first wave a woman worked beside her husband and performed a valuable and necessary role in society. Her role as both producer (in her homemaking) and consumer were prominent and critical for family survival. Her role as mother fit in with this concept of extended family, cyclical time philosophy and the home as the center of society. As the second wave rolled through man's role as provider was drastically changed. He was pulled from the home and separated from most creative production. he was a part of a huge factory machine. Man was in the marketplace though...he had advanced, while generally women remained home. Women stayed in their first wave role and as mothers their lives were more cyclical than linear. They had not "progressed". Suddenly motherhood could be considered a backward function and as it was unmeasurable and out of the market. Public schools took over mother's role as teacher, hospitals-her role as healer, and mass production her role as family seamstress and food production. Stay at home motherhood was effectively outsourced, and motherhood could be considered as backward as those communities who maintain their agricultural age.

Alvin Toffler theorizes that the third wave will revolutionize every aspect of life as drastically as the change between the first two waves. Ecological concerns and energy limitations will demand balance from the marketplace. He quickly passes over changes in the family including a changed concept of marriage. Marriage will become practical and romantic, with a greater variety of types and styles.

Toffler glosses over this and moves on with his focus on world economy. I stopped in my tracks. If such long lasting changes have come form the first to second wave as we directly attacked the man's role as a provider and separated production from consumption...what will happen as we attack the roles of mother and father? Science already makes childbearing without natural conception possible. Adoption and In Vitro Fertilization separate mother and child...sometimes this separation is for infertility, unprepared pregnancy or homosexual parents desiring children. What long lasting effects are there from this fundamental division of motherhood's role? For the father and the mother Toffler predicts greater freedom...but what is the consequence for the child?

Toffler identified a cry for meaning in the industrial age. Greater responsibility in production and consumption do not produce meaning. Reduced social morals do not produce meaning. I value progress. I value science and advancement. I wonder what if the amazing changes of the second and third waves were tempered and framed within the principle that family matters. Fatherhood is critically important. Motherhood is immeasurably valuable. Children are the future. The nurturing, education and raising of future leaders can never be outsourced, mass produced or even randomly made according to whatever feels good and happens to be convenient. Ethical development must outpace and guide all other aspects of human development.

The third wave can be an opportunity to truthfully guide technology and progress towards a gentler society. The stability required for the changes coming in the third wave is to be found in strong homes. The unity possible by information technology must be a natural outpouring from unified families.

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