We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots — religion, nation, community, family, or profession — are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.
Alvin Toffler was born on October 4, 1928, in New York City, and raised in Brooklyn. He was the son of Rose (Albaum) and Sam Toffler, a furrier, both Jewish immigrants from Poland. He had one younger sister. He was inspired to become a Writer at the age of 7 by his aunt and uncle, who lived with the Tofflers. "They were Depression-era literary intellectuals," Toffler said, "and they always talked about exciting ideas."
The "Third Wave" was a term he coined to describe the post-industrial society, which began in the late 1950s. His description of this period dovetails with other futurist Writers, who also wrote about the Information Age, Space Age, Electronic Era, Global Village, terms which highlighted a scientific-technological revolution. The Tofflers claimed to have predicted a number of geopolitical events, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Future economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.
The couple's only child, Karen Toffler (1954–2000), died at age 46 after more than a decade suffering from Guillain–Barré syndrome.
They returned to New York City in 1959 when Fortune magazine invited Alvin to become its labor columnist, later having him write about Business and management. After leaving Fortune magazine in 1962, Toffler began a freelance career, writing long form articles for scholarly journals and magazines. His 1964 Playboy interviews with Russian Novelist Vladimir Nabokov and Ayn Rand were considered among the magazine's best. His interview with Rand was the first time the magazine had given such a platform to a female intellectual, which as one commentator said, "the real bird of paradise Toffler captured for Playboy in 1964 was Ayn Rand."
Since the 1960s, people had tried to make sense out of the effect of new technologies and social change, a Problem which made Toffler's writings widely influential beyond the confines of scientific, economic, and public policy. His works and ideas have been subject to various criticisms, usually with the same argumentation used against futurology: that foreseeing the Future is nigh impossible.
Newt Gingrich became close to the Tofflers in the 1970s and said The Third Wave had immensely influenced his own thinking and was "one of the great seminal works of our time."
In 1980 Ted Turner founded CNN, which he said was inspired by Toffler's forecasting the end of the dominance of the three main television networks. Turner's company, Turner Broadcasting, published Toffler's Creating a New Civilization in 1995. Shortly after the book was released, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev hosted the Global Governance Conference in San Francisco with the theme, Toward a New Civilization, which was attended by dozens of world figures, including the Tofflers, George H. W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Carl Sagan, Abba Eban and Turner with his then-wife, Actress Jane Fonda.
U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich publicly lauded his ideas about the Future, and urged members of Congress to read Toffler's book, Creating a New Civilization (1995). Others, such as AOL founder Steve Case, cited Toffler's The Third Wave as a formative influence on his thinking, which inspired him to write The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future in 2016. Case said that Toffler was a "real pioneer in helping people, companies and even countries lean into the Future."
In 1996, with American Business consultant Tom Johnson, they co-founded Toffler Associates, an advisory firm designed to implement many of the ideas the Tofflers had written on. The firm worked with businesses, NGOs, and governments in the United States, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, Australia, and other countries. During this period in his career, Toffler lectured worldwide, taught at several schools and met world Leaders, such as Mikhail Gorbachev, along with key executives and military officials.
Toffler stated many of his ideas during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1998. Among a few of his opinions, he said that "Society needs people who take care of the elderly and who know how to be compassionate and honest. Society needs people who work in hospitals. Society needs all kinds of skills that are not just cognitive; they're emotional, they're affectional. You can't run the society on data and computers alone."
Accenture, the management consultancy firm, identified Toffler in 2002 as being among the most influential voices in Business Leaders, along with Bill Gates and Peter Drucker. Toffler has also been described in a Financial Times interview as the "world's most famous futurologist". In 2006 the People's Daily classed him among the 50 foreigners who shaped modern China, which one U.S. newspaper notes made him a "guru of sorts to world statesmen." Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang of China convened conferences to discuss The Third Wave in the early 1980s, and in 1985 the book was the No. 2 best seller in China.
In 2006, the Alvin and Heidi Toffler were recipients of Brown University's Independent Award.
In his book The Third Wave, Toffler describes three types of societies, based on the concept of "waves" — each wave pushes the older societies and cultures aside. He describes the "First Wave" as the society after agrarian revolution and replaced the first hunter-gatherer cultures. The "Second Wave," he labels society during the Industrial Revolution (ca. late 17th century through the mid-20th century). That period saw the increase of urban industrial populations which had undermined the traditional nuclear family, and initiated a factory-like education system, and the growth of the corporation. Toffler said:
Alvin Toffler died in his sleep on June 27, 2016, at his home in Los Angeles. No cause of death was given.