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The Roots of Techno
Since 1981, the compositions of techno visionary Juan Atkins have sent shock waves through contemporary music. On the heels of the German group Kraftwerk, he and partner Rick Davis formed Cybotron: "I'd got into Alvin Toffler and his comments concerning the electronic village. I considered that there had to be more than three waves and extrapolated the necessity of interfacing the spirituality of human beings into the cybernetic matrix: between the brain, the soul and the mechanisms of cyberspace."
As part of this concept, he also changed his name to 3070: "I was doing the Zoharian discipline at the time: to be in cyberspace, it was necessary for me to find an interface where I could find my deepest inner being. Zohar is based on the study of numbers: to become an entity you have to become a non-entity, and 3070 was my Zoharian designation. I had dues to pay to the Cosmic Lord: that's why I had to do 'Megiddo' and 'Eden'."
Atkins helped to develop the concepts and provided the Funk, but it was a new kind of Funk: stripped, cool. "Nothing was really deliberate," he says. "Everything was on feel. My music has always been very minimal. If it's there, it's there. If it's doing the job, why dress it up any more? We used Rolands, Arps, the Korg MS 20. The whole idea was to do something futuristic, that hadn't been done before."
This was Cybotron's purple patch, building from Kraftwerk's electronic grid and the alienation of UK Electro to redraw the map of their blasted city. "You can look at the state of Detroit as a plus," says Atkins. "Alright, you only take 15 minutes to get from one side of the city centre to the other, and the main department store is boarded up, but we're at the forefront here. When the new technology came in, Detroit collapsed as an industrial city, but Detroit is Techno City: it's getting better, it's coming back around."
"'Techno City' was the electronic village," says Davies. "It was divided into different sectors. I'd watched Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" - which had the privileged sector in the clouds and the underground worker's city. I thought there should be three sectors: the idea was that a person could be born and raised in Techno City - the worker's city - but what he wanted to do was work his way to the cybodrome where artists and intellectuals reside. There would be no Moloch, but all sorts of diversions, games, electronic instruments. Techno City was the equivalent of the ghetto in Detroit: on Woodward Avenue the pimps, pushers etc get overlooked by the Renaissance Tower."
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Alvin authored several books with his wife Heidi. The most notable comprise the acclaimed “Toffler trilogy” of Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift, all international bestsellers widely read by contemporary business and political leaders.
Future Shock, which vividly described an emerging global civilization, was published in more than 50 countries and introduced a phrase into our language that is still used today. The Third Wave offered a portrait of a new civilization emerging around the globe and revealed the hidden connections among changes in business, family life, technology and politics. Powershift examined the roles conflict, wealth and knowledge play in our lives as it charted new paths to power opened by a world in upheaval.
In their writing, the Tofflers forecast many of the realities of contemporary society and politics, including the acceleration of daily life, the decline of the nuclear family, cloning, virtual reality, information overload, the threat of terrorism and many other features of contemporary society and politics. Many of these predictions have come to bear and the central thesis of their work has proven true—that a knowledge-based new economy would replace the Industrial Age.
Indeed, their uncanny ability to identify some of this century’s greatest social and technological trends is yet to be matched. The lesser-known Heidi was never formally named as co-author of the couple’s first three books – but was widely referred to as Alvin’s ‘writing partner’, and was acknowledged as co-author of their later works together.
Here are some of the Toffler’s predictions:
The ‘Prosumer’ The term prosumption is a hybrid term of ‘consumer’ and ‘producer’, and was first coined in The Third Wave in 1980. Simply put, it refers to the growing input of the consumer’s wants and needs into the design of products. The rookie becomes the expert as mass customization gives the customer access to increasingly expert products. We only need to look to the rise of DIY as a megatrend, one that saw so many experts go out of business.
Toffler uses medical instruments as an example in The Third Wave: “As recently as 1972 few medical instruments were sold to non physicians. Today a growing share of the instrument market is destined for the home” he writes, “Sales of otoscopes, ear-cleaning devices, nose and throat irrigators, and specialized convalescent products are all booming, as individuals take on more responsibility for their own health, reduce the number of visits to the doctor, and cut short their hospital stays.
The internet The Tofflers also predicted the spread of online shared spaces such as chat rooms, interactive media, and electronics devices that remind the user of events and appointments.
The technology that eventually became the internet was also described as, “advanced technology and information systems that make it possible for much of the work of society to be done at home via computer-telecommunications hook-ups.” In other words – email.
Genetic engineering and cloning In a 1997 interview with Wired, the Tofflers spoke extensively of the future need and desire for human cloning. The pull, the demand for human organs and for human clones will build once it becomes clear that this is doable. The race is probably already on, said Alvin, whilst wife Heidi was more pragmatic. Society has still not dealt with the ethical and legal problems involved with cloning, she said. What are we waiting for?
In another interview, Toffler looked to the future of IVF, predicting a setup in which women would be able to “buy a tiny embryo, take it to her doctor, have it implanted in her uterus…and then give birth as though it had been conceived in her own body”. One of the more fantastic possibilities is that man will be able to make biological carbon copies of himself, he said.
Same sex marriages In The Third Wave, the Tofflers wrote, “We shall… also see many more ‘family’ units consisting of a single unmarried adult and one or more children. Nor will all of these adults be women… As homosexuality becomes more socially acceptable, we may even begin to find families based on homosexual marriage.” It seems remarkable that decades after this being published, same sex marriage remains taboo – if not illegal – in many parts of the world.
Older parenthood The Toffler’s also predicted the growing incidence of older parents, thanks to a heavier focus on career building in the 20’s and 30’s. Why not wait and buy your embryos later, after your work career is over? Thus childlessness is likely to spread among young and middle-aged couples; sexagenarians who raise infants may be far more common. IVF and egg freezing would have seemed a wild concept at the time, and is perhaps the most prescient of all the Toffler’s predictions.
Mass consumerism They wrote that people of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: overchoice.
Information overload The concept of surplus ‘screen time’ and its ill effects have become a growing concern in recent years. The Tofflers saw this, making famous the phrase ‘information overload’ in Future Shock. They described the condition of ‘future shock’ as the “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future”. In a radio interview following the release of the book in 1970, Alvin Toffler looked to a sense of rising panic as new technology continued to march forth, seemingly unstoppable.
“I think there’s a tremendous undercurrent of dissatisfaction in America; people saying I want out, it’s moving too fast, it’s moving away from me; a sense of panic; a sense that things are slipping out of control and I don’t think that there’s much we can do in our personal lives to counteract that”, he said.
With many young urban couples looking to return to organic lifestyles and rural ‘seachanges’, the rejection of modern media and technology are surely paid in part to fear of the future. Wearable tech, social media, endless online entertainment, multiple communication channels…it’s an exhausting present we live in, so what does the future hold? Relief, or increased cadence?
"The Techno Rebels are, whether they recognize it or not, agents of the Third Wave. They will not vanish but multiply in the years ahead. For they are as much part of the advance to a new stage of civilization as our missions to Venus, our amazing computers, our biological discoveries, or our explorations of the oceanic depths."
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