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The rising importance of brainpower is the single biggest force shaping society today, futurist and best-selling author Alvin Toffler has said.

“Mindwork is replacing muscle work,” said Toffler, author of Future Shock as well as the more recent Creating A New civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave. “We are moving from the brute-force to the brain-force economy.”

As a result, he said yesterday, workers are not replaceable as they were in the days of the assembly line when the required skills were minimal.

“It’s much more complex now, and the emphasis is on relationships and level of knowledge.”

Toffler described societal trends as “gigantic transforming waves of change,” and said the world is currently being shaped by the Third Wave, or knowledge of revolution.

Computers are crucial to the spread of knowledge in the Third Wave, he said. They are finding their way into almost every North American home and evidence of the rapid pace of technological change is everywhere.

Among evidence Toffler cited:

 

  • The stock market value of Microsoft Inc. exceeds General Motors Corp.
  • The sale of encyclopedia CD Roms exceeds the sale of encyclopedias in book form.
  • Computers are outselling televisions.
  • The amount of money spent on computer hardware and software exceeds the U.S. defence budget.

“Microchips are embedded in the products that surround us,” he said. “If you look at the average home, you’ll find microchips from the dishwasher to the microwave.”

Companies no longer need to mass-produce identical items to be efficient, and the cost of change is much less than in the old days, he added.

Due to advances in technology, a product can be altered with a push of a button or a few key strokes, and almost anything can be easily replicated once the original has been developed.

A successful company today must employ competitive intelligence and strategic thinking. The firm must also have adequate information technology and plug into the right knowledge networks.

Workers need increasingly specialized skill, but because of constant change, those skills quickly become obsolete.

The new economy will need the Third Wave economics to measure progress. Concepts such as gross national product as a measure of productivity will no longer apply, Toffler said.

But the implications of change go beyond economics, he said. When the knowledge structure of society changes, everything is affected, including families, religion, education and politics.

Everything is becoming more individualized and customized, he said, and society is moving away from the idea that one size fits all.

“Previously everyone had a nuclear family,” Toffler said. “The father went to work and the mother stayed home. We are now seeing the fracturing of the family, and it’s an extremely painful progress. The family is taking a variety of forms: two-career parents, step-families, and single parents.”

The concept of “ time is money” is taking on more importance than ever, as more things happen and change in a given interval of time, Toffler said.

The pyramidal chain of command in corporations is disappearing as management comes more dependent front-line employees to gather knowledge. This will result in empowering employees and massifying the organization framework.

“Instead of a uniform marketplace, we’re seeing niche in the marketplace.”

This is giving rise to such items as a one-on-one marketing and individualized custom communication.

Witness to hundreds of channels springing up on cable television, the number of satellite stations and specialty publications and new sources of information such as the Internet.

Politics at the grassroots level are changing to reflect the new identities, with all kinds of special interest groups springing up, he said.

“It is becoming harder to control complex economics through centralized structures,” he said

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