What Is Future Shock?

March 21, 2024

what is future shock

Future shock is a big, heavy load of stress that hits someone hard when they just can't keep up with how super-fast things are changing in our tech world and society. It's not just in the mind; it makes people feel all messed up inside. Someone could be in a race, wearing flip-flops, while everyone else has rocket shoes. That's what future shock is – that feeling of being stuck in slow motion when everything around is speeding up.

When people deal with future shock, they might get anxious, confused, or just plain overwhelmed. It's like their brains and hearts are playing catch-up with a world that won't wait. In this world of fast tech and societal shifts, understanding what future shock is can help people find ways to deal with it and maybe even thrive in the fast-paced race.

The Origins of Future Shock: Alvin Toffler's Thesis

 Future Shock: Alvin Toffler‍
Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. Source: Paleofuture

Future shock is a term coined by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book of the same name. It refers to the psychological state of disorientation and confusion that people and societies experience due to the rapid pace of technological change and the constant influx of new information and ideas. Future shock is characterized by a sense of being overwhelmed and a feeling of being left behind by the unwavering forward motion of technology.

Toffler argues that the rapid pace of technological change is causing a breakdown in traditional social structures and institutions and that it is leading to feelings of disorientation and confusion among people. He posits that this rapid change is causing a state of future shock in which people struggle to adapt to the constant changes in their environment.

The Psychological Impact of Future Shock

Future shock can have a significant psychological impact on people and societies, as supported by a study by Research Gate. Here are some of the effects:


Future shock can lead to feelings of confusion and disorientation as people struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of change. For example, someone has just upgraded to the latest iPhone, and it's all shiny and new. But in the next year, a brand-new iPhone is on the horizon. They are left thinking, "Should I get it? Is there a big difference?" The constant churn of technology often leaves people bewildered. They want to keep up but can't always figure out what's genuinely better.


 Signs of anxiety
The top signs of anxiety. Source: VeryWellHealth

The constant influx of new information and ideas can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of anxiety and stress. A study by The Open University found that high levels of engagement with smartphones and multimedia technology may be physically changing people’s brain structure and function, leading to anxiety and stress. The top 5 stressors, according to the study, are perpetual distraction, social comparison, sleep disruption, fear of missing out, and constant connection.


Future shock can cause people to become easily frustrated and irritable as they struggle to adapt to new ways of life. A study published in the National Library of Medicine explored technostress, assessing the relationship with possible negative effects on people. The study found that technostress can lead to irritability and other negative effects in people.


In some cases, future shock can lead to a sense of helplessness and apathy as people feel overwhelmed by the pace of change. One example is the overstimulation and constant exposure to disturbing information about climate change. A review published in PMC found that overstimulation and constant exposure to disturbing information about future climate change can lead to the feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious. However, it can also lead to apathy and a sense of helplessness in people.


Some people may attempt to cope with future shock by denying the reality of the changes that are occurring. Denial of the negative impact of digital life is an example. A study by the Pew Research Center found that some respondents denied the negative impact of digital life, such as mental illness and increasing social isolation as a result of more time spent with technology. They believe that the positives of digital life will continue to outweigh the negatives.


Fragmentation is the breakdown of traditional social structures and institutions due to the rapid pace of technological change and the constant influx of new information and ideas. One example is the fragmentation of social relationships. A study by The Open University found that high levels of engagement with smartphones and multimedia technology can lead to this feeling. The constant need to keep up with new technologies and social norms can lead to a sense of cognitive fragmentation as people struggle to process and integrate new information.

Loss of identity

Extended reality
What extended reality is all about. Source: GAO

Rapid change can lead to a loss of connection to the past and to the values that have held people and societies together. The metaverse and extended reality technologies are examples. The metaverse has the potential to stretch the physical world using extended, augmented, and virtual reality technologies. The use of these technologies can lead to a loss of identity as people become more immersed in virtual environments.

Future Shock and Global Crises

The concept of future shock is closely related to the idea of global crises. This is because rapid technological change and the inflow of new information and ideas can contribute to the occurrence of such crises, as backed by the study by the National Academies Press. They explored the effects of technological change on the global economic structure, which is creating immense transformations in the way companies and nations organize. 

The study also found that technological change can lead to both positive and negative impacts on society. The negative impact includes the potential for global crises. Here are some of the ways future shocks and global crises are interconnected:

The Impact of Global Future Shocks on Economic Recovery, Social Cohesion, and Political Stability

The OECD has identified five types of events that can produce global shocks - financial crises, cyber risks, pandemics, geomagnetic storms, and social unrest. Global leaders are acutely aware that another systemic shock could severely challenge economic recovery, social cohesion, and even political stability. Visible indicators of vulnerability persist in the forms of economic imbalances, volatile commodity prices and currencies, colossal public debts, and severe budget deficits.

The Need for Resilience in the Face of Future Shocks

The Oxford Martin School has launched two new solutions-focused programs aiming to support greater resilience in global economic, social, and crises of all types. The Oxford Martin Program on Systemic Resilience will deliver tools to rethink how governments and international institutions manage the risk of global future shocks. 

The Oxford Martin Program on Changing Global Orders aims to draw on analysis of the recent past to deliver pathways to more collaborative, cohesive, and coordinated institutional responses to future shocks. These programs aim to create new solutions to manage cascading shocks and determine what governance frameworks are best able to provide resilient responses to the systemic challenges of shocks that ripple through interconnected global systems.

The Importance of Decisive Action in Response to Global Crises

The International Monetary Fund has emphasized the importance of decisive action in response to global crises. During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries often used all-out responses that combined large fiscal, monetary, and prudential policies like grants, credit facilities, and relaxed capital requirements. This kind of expansive response may be needed to support corporate borrowing and credit growth in major future crises that combine global supply and demand shocks. 

Packages combining large fiscal, monetary, and prudential measures also translated into additional access to liquidity for bank-dependent firms. This allowed them to cover expenses — like wage bills — for two additional months, while health measures limited sales. The results underscore the importance of decisive action in terms of the breadth and intensity of pandemic policy responses. In future crises that combine — as the pandemic did — negative supply and demand shocks with significant uncertainty, a similarly concerted, coordinated, all-out approach may have an important role to play in supporting the economy.

Best Strategies for Coping with Future Shock

H.G. Wells on lack of foresight
H.G. Wells questioning the lack of foresight as technology advanced. Source: Medium

Below are the best strategies one may take to cope with future shock:

  • Controlling the use of technology. Instead of letting technology control them, people are taking control of their use of technology. They set boundaries and limits for themself and use technology to its fullest capability.
  • Developing foresight. Overcoming future shock with foresight helps people avoid being blindsided by change. Futurists can help develop guiding visions of the possible, plausible, and probable futures that people can use to determine whether they wish to pursue that future. One instance is when H.G. Wells, a science fiction author, unknowingly suffered future shock. He then questioned why authorities were unprepared for the consequences of technological advancements.
  • Take care of oneself. Coping with future shock requires taking care of oneself. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Limiting alcohol consumption to moderate amounts. Traveling and taking the time to relax helps.
  • Reducing stress. Future shock can be stressful, and reducing stress is an important coping strategy. Being realistic, learning to say no, eliminating unnecessary activities, meditating, visualizing, taking one thing at a time, exercising, engaging in hobbies, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are crucial.
  • Accepting change. Accepting that massive change is here and not getting upset by it is an important coping strategy. Talking to people who understand that change is happening, making a plan, and staying connected to home is also important. Being social and making time to process one's feelings helps.

Shaping the Future

Future shock comes as a result of the world we live in today. This includes the impact of the emerging digital technologies and the ways in which a shift to a post-industrial society would uncouple our sense of the world and our place within it. It is a phenomenon that is still relevant today, and it has been the subject of ongoing research and discussion. Strategies for coping with future shock include developing resilience, mindfulness, and critical thinking skills, as well as staying informed and engaged with the world around us. 

It is important to understand and address future shock as the rapid pace of technological change and the constant influx of new information and ideas can contribute to the occurrence of global crises. People shape the future, and it is up to us to take action to mitigate the negative impacts of future shock and create a better world for ourselves and future generations.

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