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Spotted on the Subway – April 22, 2010

File:Future shock.png
Cover image from the Future Shock Wikipedia page.

Whenever I speak to people about the enormous technological changes that are continually taking place in the world of work, publishing, reading, and creating, the title ‘Future Shock’ is always on the tip of my tongue, especially when the person I’m in conversation with talks about being overwhelmed by the speed of the change taking place.  ‘Future Shock’ is one of those books that, to some, is almost cliché , while others are completely unaware of.   Doubt, frustration, and anomie are just a few of the problems Toffler predicts will plague society as we move forward into a world in which technological advancement will take precedence over actual human capacity and need.

Now that this age is supposedly upon us, we see generation after generation adapting quite well to the pace of change, and – many older Americans might argue – far too well and to the point that past knowledge is regarded as irrelevant simply for being, well, old.

Furthermore, as I continue to follow developments in the world of consumer gadgets alongside actual scientific achievement, I wonder if another component of Future Shock is, in fact, ‘Future Schlock’, or the marketing of gadgets that have extremely limited use and availability which hook consumers with the idea that they are investing in an advanced technological future when they decide to purchase the latest piece of mass produced consumer hardware.

I was recently asked for my opinion about e-readers and their impact on reading and sharing.  Would the inability to to peek at what our fellow subway riders were reading have some impact on our ability to engage with others about books?  Not sure. Probably not.  In some way, we will always want to share what we are reading with our friends to demonstrate our knowledge and generate discussion and we are creating new ways to do that even as the immediacy of good ol’ book cover seems to be receding.   What if readers decided to create their own book covers in response to their favorite titles, especially the ones that aren’t getting enough sales in the traditional market?  Would publishers respond by using this home-grown artwork in a bid to boost sales?

But this discussion generates a kind of techno-lust in some and techno-phobia in others that I find quite beside the point.  With the advent of e-readers, we’ve added yet another production cycle to the publication of process at a time when we should be seeking less waste and less process, not more.   Whatever form readers choose to take their books, magazines and newspapers, they are consumed with a plethora of devices (and I would include the traditional book here as a ‘device’ – why not?) that create the illusion of actual choice, when, in reality, it does very little to change or advance the way we read, talk about and engage in our literature.