The Winds of Change

The winds of change are blowing through society – but not all change is progress, indeed, there is plenty of change that isn’t progress.

The shock of the new

Humans love novelty. We are extremely curious and we are stimulated by new things and certain changes. Unfortunately, not all change is good and it is easy to get overstimulated. When there is too much change, too quickly people get overloaded and anxious. This is the main theme of the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler which was published in 1970. In the intervening 54 years things have only got worse.

In Future Shock, Toffler argued that society is changing fundamentally from an industrial society to a “super-industrial society”. Toffler believes that the ever-increasing rate of change leaves people disconnected and suffering from future shock which he described as ‘shattering stress and disorientation’.

There are many causes of the massive cultural change during the past century. These winds of change include:

  • the relentless rise of capitalism
  • affluence and consumerism
  • technological development
  • the secularisation of society
  • the demise of class structure
  • the atomisation of society including reduction in community values and involvement
  • the alienation of work
  • the abstraction of artificial environments.

What are these Winds of Change?

Let’s look at them one by one:


The rise of capitalism over the past century has seen an enormous amount of change – not just in technology (see below) but also in working conditions, worker engagement, job types, specialisation, consumer habits, product choices, built environments (like industrial areas, warehouses, ports, airports, railways).

Another major consequential change caused by capitalism has been the proliferation of value-added goods. It is proven that too much product choice creates anxiety.

Another affect of capitalism, is that it drives worker movement and often necessitates it. Having to move for work can create isolation, insecurity and anxiety. In large cities people feel more isolated than ever, causing distrust and social anxiety.

Also, capitalism and consequent economic growth have changed the natural environment in disastrous ways.


Technology changes people because it changes the way we interact with the world around us. Technology has a transforming effect on our cognition – and often not in a good way. When technology changes quickly, new technologies are superceded before we even get used to them.

One technology that has changed society in unprecedented ways is the internet (and ICT generally). Of course, the internet has many very positive aspects. One of the changes it has created is the increased speed of everything. Speed is definitely not a bad thing per se. However, too much speed over long periods can be stressful and unsettling.


The secularisation of society, whilst not a bad thing in itself, has left a gaping hole because church and religion, things that connected people, and gave them a sense of certainty and hope, has been scuttled leaving an existential void that science and commerce cannot possibly fill. Ultimately, it will be things like arts, culture and heritage that can answer the metaphysical questions of human existence.


Atomisation (or negative individualism) is the general loss of trust, community spirit and solidarity amongst people. The rise of individual competitiveness and selfish status seeking has led to increasing distrust and envy. Also the rise in inequality and social isolation causes less social cohesion and harmony in society. Many people live in enormously populous cities and yet studies prove that people are more isolated now than ever before.


The human world has become much more artificial and therefore abstract. People are alienated from their true nature; they are not grounded in the real world. Reality has become relative. The rat race is real but no-one really chooses it – we just do it because everyone else is doing it. Gallup polls report that over 75% of workers are not engaged in their jobs. These issues all lead to more anxiety and dissatisfaction.


In the developed world the average person has become more affluent than ever before. A big problem with affluence is that it drives novelty and change, and those things are unsettling.

Paradoxically affluence creates insecurity. Humans are innately jealous and there is pressure to keep up, having what others have and living the dream. If you can’t have what others have you can become resentful and bitter. 

Affluence also creates passiveness which leads to anxiety which leads to neurosis.

What to do about the winds of change

In the face of all these changes, and others, what can people do?

Unfortunately there is no one simple answer. Choosing to avoid the rat race and thereby getting your life back is a start. Also, by living simply, only consuming sufficient for a life of well-being, and being more self-sufficient, will keep you grounded.

It is neither possible nor good to have no change at all, but it is possible to be more deliberate and prudent about the changes we choose, and not be aimlessly blown about by the winds of change.