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Europe still lives in the past

This is the concerned comment of the most renowned American futurist, who doesn't see our Continent very worried with cutting with the past. In this interview, he reveals his two 'passions'. A massive investment in new ways of teaching, aimed at a more educated population and an electronic and communicational infrastructure are the two basic conditions for a strategy based on knowledge. This is the challenge that the Nations and great markets will have in the next century. This one of the topics of his next book, which will only come out when the dust of the Millennium settles down.

Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues in Los Angeles (1999)

Alvin Toffler is now 70 years-old and he is preparing, after all the 'noise' about the Millennium passes, to astonish us again, with a book whose title is still a secret, but whose content he unravelled in this exclusive interview made in the Californian city he now lives in. What concerns him, in these troubled times, is the complex transition that the more substantial part of the Planet, where poverty as a rule still lingers, is going through, at a time when the new economy and society based on knowledge are no longer something from the future. All you have to do is watch what is going on in the 'big' ones in Asia, Russia or China.

Europe also raised a concerned comment. Behind the euphoria of the Euro, it is still an Old Continent resisting the decisive dive into the Third Wave. If you ask him for a European brand as a symbol of this wave, he only recalls SAP AG, a multinational earning points in the business software.

Toffler became a reference for the generation of the 'third industrial revolution' when he successfully signed in 1980 the slogan of the 'Third Wave', in the book that definitively placed him as one of the most respected futurists of the world.

The rhythm of writing of the Toffler couple - the Alvin and Heidi duet, he stresses, after taking his wife out of the shadows of fame in the 90's - can be counted by decades. For the most impatient, the waiting is long. Nevertheless, he doesn't give up 'chewing' time with his public. This is also an interview with a long waiting time. Not a decade, however. It was a promise, since the publishing of "War and Anti-war" by the couple, more than five years ago in New York. Several mishappenings in the family life of the Tofflers postponed it. "Perseverance is one of the virtues of the journalist", recalls Alvin, underlining that he was "a journalist himself" and he "knows how these things works".

Finally, our meeting occurred in Los Angeles, and a thank you word was necessary in the logistics provided by Jack Nilles, the 'father' of telework, who also didn't meet the futurist for more than ten years.

The most impatient are despairing. When will your next book come out, within your strategy of only publishing at a decade's rhythm?

ALVIN TOFFLER - You will have to remain impatient a while longer. I'm working on it, but together with my publisher we ended up thinking there will be too much noise surrounding the Millennium. That is why I don't think I'll publish anything before 2001; only after the dust settles down.

Nevertheless, can you unravel a bit what you're investigating into?

A.T. - I've been concentrating on the problem of social and cultural conditions for the creation of Wealth in modern times. These processes are complex. They're not simple, as thought by, for example, western people when they got to the USSR with their plans for implementing a market. They have now discovered, frozen, that basic conditions were lacking, as a legal system. And the monster they created has nothing to do with what they thought they were 'transplanting'...

In fact, in East Europe the most massive transitions of the system are occurring, the most complex problems of the Planet for the years to come. Are you optimistic?

A.T. - It's not easy to be optimistic. Russia is like a boiling pan: emerging fascism, tactical nuclear weapons at hand, wild capitalism... It has all the ingredients necessary to explode at one point or another. In China, however, an even deeper revolution than the communist one from Mao Ze Dong, one that Chinese leaders want to accomplish with stability. It will be, no doubt, amazing, if they succeed! But if Asia can free 1 billion people from poverty, it will be something unseen in World History.

So, deep down, you're hopeful about Asia?

A.T. - Contrary to what is usually said today as a fad, I think that Asia is not finished. In my books I'd anticipated a lot of turbulence and warned that continuous economic growth could stop. Of course, nobody knows the future, but I'm hopeful that Asia will come back. There is a tremendous energy in its "basement" - human resources are still there. There is a hard core that wasn't liquidated, which is still working for the future. Sincerely, I think the International Monetary Fund has its hands covered with blood in Asia. It didn't understand a thing about what was going on there.

What about Europe?

A.T. - I would also like to know what will happen. After the Second World War, the purpose of integration was political. However, according to my terminology, it didn't come rightfully with a dive into the Third Wave. Europe still hasn't discovered it, it's true, after 50 years. If you talk to me about the European brands of the third wave, I can only find an exception - SAP AG. The rest, I'm sorry to say, is dead and more than dead. Your political and even business community, as hard as it is to hear, still lives essentially in the past. The implicit strategy of your governments or even the bureaucracy in Brussels is still this one: feed the first wave, with the agriculture lobby increasing its weight; sustain the second wave, so that non-competitive companies survive; and ignore, as a whole, the entrepreneurs of the third wave.

Even in political speeches, do you see this conservative attitude, or is it more an epidemic anti-European reaction, typically American?

A.T. - What can I say to you? Even in the political field, I think a great mistake was made in Europe. The lucid critics of the left and central wing were put aside. The only critic presence - that one even more old-fashioned is from the extremists of the right wing, which is terrible. Your politicians are still dazzled with the Euro, but after the first two or three years, they'll change. I even think that some European politicians are already aware of the problems. They understand what is going on, but they can't take the necessary steps, because clients don't let them. The Third Wave means change, deep change, and a lot of people, with power and privileges, don't want it.

Coming back, now, to your books. You've given us a fundamental book each decade. But after "Powershift", edited in 1990, you surprised us with two more important works, one of them, "War and Anti-War" (in 1993), published, by the way, at the right time...

A.T. - We decided to write that book - "War and Anti-War" - on the night Baghdad was bombed for the first time during the Gulf War. Watching it on TV we recalled: this new type of war projected in front of our eyes was what we had discussed more than a decade before, when a group of American generals has started to read our book "The Third Wave" and intended to apply those ideas to the military field. At the time, a group of generals, leaded by Donn Starry, wanted to reformulate war according to our third wave terminology, and one of the elements of that team, in charge of the doctrine, Don Morelli, came to get us at the Quality Inn's elevator at 7h30 AM on April 12th 1982, to take us to the Pentagon. Thus started the change to a doctrine of "war of the third wave", where knowledge took a central place in operations. It was this story we told with detail in that book. Now, military from the world over have been studying the problem.

Thirty years later, what would you re-write in "Future Shock", your most known best-seller?

A.T. - I wouldn't mess with basic suppositions - the idea of change, of economy based on knowledge, the role of technology. What I would perhaps rewrite would be the economics part. I still hadn't freed from an influence from many western economists from those 60's. I myself, in that field, wasn't sufficiently radical. The economists thought there wouldn't be more recession - dominating economics was only a question of 'tuning' the pace. They hardly guessed what would happen next - like the oil crisis in the 70's, for example.

Looking now, at the future, what are the shocks we're going through? For example, the Internet, now so popular, what shock will it bring?

A.T. - Let's see, I was among the handful of maybe 700 who, in the 70's, already used that communication tool to develop a tremendous co-operative work. We were a very small community at the time. Then, at the end at the 80's the "media" discovered the Internet. The idea that was transmitted, sometimes, from that point, is that before there was nothing, that the Net came out of the blue, suddenly. Obviously, it was not like that. Since the beginning, we were convinced that it was something that would completely revolutionise institutions, like the family, finance, commerce, the "media". Now, saying this is just a "cliché". I think that the Net will not be a revolution for work and commerce only. The home, our home, the place we live in, is an emerging place. It is as if there was a return, a dialectic one, to the pre-industrial phase.

And is there really a New Economy, or is it just also hype journalism and marketing?

A.T. - There has been a caricatured debate on the problem. On one side, there's the 'purists' saying there is nothing new, and that what is going on with the "hi-tech" stock is unjustified madness. On the other, there's the defenders of the new economy, tending to defend a naive optimism, an incessant growth, never stopping. I think that both sides are wrong. There certainly is a new economy! But it's naive to think about an ever ending stability, when reality is pure turbulence. The essential question is developing a strategy based on knowledge - a national strategy. And that is where the efforts of the debate should concentrate.

What do you mean by this necessity of developing national strategies based on knowledge?

A.T. - All the fields are already talking about it. And even the military, as we referred earlier, have been aware for a long time, of the need of strategies based on knowledge. What is now needed is that countries think, on a national level, about strategies of this kind. For me, there are two fundamental stepstones for such a strategy: a better education and a good electronic infrastructure. We have an absolute need of new ways of teaching, where "media" themselves have to be involved, computers, shared knowledge, families, teachers, consultants, etc. I want to give you an example of what I think is extraordinary in the positive involvement of the "media" in a new type of education - TV Globo, for the 500 Years of the Discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese, is going to release a project for the education of the Brazilians, mostly young ones.

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