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The Third Wave

In his book The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler divides societal history into three phases which he calls “waves.”  Using the symbolism of waves, Toffler argues that the phases overlap.  Therefore, there is no definite beginning or end to a phase, and where the waves collide, conflict springs forth.  The “First Wave” was concerned with agriculture and took place over thousands of years.  The Second required about three hundred years to mature and was a direct result of the Industrial Revolution.  The Third Wave gives the book its title and represents a coming global shift.  Toffler goes to great lengths to distinguish between First Wave society and Second Wave society.  Three of the major differences between the two are the family unit, the structure of business, and gender distinctions.

The Third Wave

In a primarily agricultural society, life was centered around the land and a small community or village which was usually comprised of family members.  When work shifted away from the land during industrialization, this type of community was no longer possible.  Toffler explains the family system shift when he writes:

Before the industrial revolution, for example, family forms varied from place to place.  But wherever agriculture held sway, people tended to live in large, multigenerational households [. . .] all working together as an economic production unit[.. . .] And the family was immobile--rooted to the soil.

He goes on to explain here that with industrialization came a shift to the cities and an inherent mobility.  Since extended families could not be as mobile, nuclear families became the norm .  With this shift away from rural life and family came changes in education.  Children were no longer educated individually, but instead, were sent out of the home into a “mass education system.”   This system revolutionized education and business as it taught “basic reading, writing, and arithmetic [. . . and] three [covert] courses: one in punctuality, one in obedience, and one in rote, repetitive work”.  The underlying curriculum Toffler details taught students to become better production workers and paved the way for large corporations.

The Second Wave saw the dawn of the corporation as factory work became more and more synchronized, specialized, and centralized. As a natural result of factory production, two interdependent types of people emerged—-producers and consumers.  Survival necessitated that individuals be both producer and consumer so that self-sufficiency was ultimately lost in the process.  Toffler writes:

Instead of essentially self-sufficient people and communities, it [The Second Wave] created for the first time in history a situation in which the overwhelming bulk of all food, goods, and services was destined for sale, barter, or exchange.  It virtually wiped out of existence goods produced for ones’ own consumption[.. . .] Everyone became almost totally dependent upon, food, goods, or services produced by somebody else. 

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