Testimony of Alvin and Heidi Toffler

Before the Joint Economic Committee

The Economy in the 21st Century

June 12, 1995

"What is a 'Third Wave Information Society'"?

The First Wave of change, launched by the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago led to the transition from hunting, gathering and foraging to the great peasant societies of the past. The Second Wave of change, triggered by the industrial revolution of 300 years ago, gave rise to a new factory-centered civilization. It is still spreading in some parts of the world as hundreds of millions of peasants, from Mexico to China, flood into the cities search for minimal skill jobs on factory assembly lines.

But even as the Second Wave plays itself out on the global stage, America and other countries are already feeling the impact of a gigantic Third Wave partly based on the substitution of mental power for muscle power in the economy.

The Third Wave is more than just technology and economics. Our transition from a brute force to a brain force economy is accompanied by painful social, cultural, institutional, moral, and political dislocations. The Third Wave helps explain why so many industrial-era institutions, from giant corporations to governments, are dinosaurs gasping for their last breath. It is why America is suffering from simultaneous crises in everything from the education system,the health system, and the family system to justice system. They were designed to work in a mass industrial society. But America has left that behind.

Driven by global competition and other forces, America today is completing its transition from a Second Wave nation with a rust smokestack, assembly-line economy to a sleek computer-driven, information and media dense economy and social system that, surprisingly, will have many features of the pre-industrial past. Swept along by the Third Wave of history, we are creating a new civilization.