Future Shock: Orson Welles Narrates a 1972 Film About the Perils of Technological Change

The begin­ning of the 1972 doc­u­men­tary Future Shock, direct­ed by Alex Grasshof, shows Orson Welles, beard­ed and chomp­ing on a cig­ar, stand­ing on an air­port peo­ple mover. He turns to the cam­era and deliv­ers a mono­logue in his trade­mark silken bari­tone. “In the course of my work, which has tak­en me to just about every cor­ner of the globe, I see many aspects of a phe­nom­e­non which I’m just begin­ning to under­stand. Our mod­ern tech­nolo­gies have changed the degree of sophis­ti­ca­tion beyond our wildest dreams. But this tech­nol­o­gy has exact­ed a pret­ty heavy price. We live in an age of anx­i­ety and time of stress. And with all our sophis­ti­ca­tion, we are in fact the vic­tims of our own tech­no­log­i­cal strengths –- we are the vic­tims of shock… a future shock.”

The doc­u­men­tary itself is won­der­ful­ly dat­ed. From its bizarre open­ing mon­tage; to its sound­track, which lurch­es from ear­ly elec­tron­ic music to jazz funk; to some endear­ing video spe­cial effects, which, for what­ev­er rea­son, most­ly cen­ters around Orson Welles’s head, the film feels thor­ough­ly root­ed in the Nixon admin­is­tra­tion. Yet many of the ideas dis­cussed in the movie are, if any­thing, more rel­e­vant now than in the 1970s.

The term “future shock” was invent­ed in Alvin Tof­fler’s huge­ly best­selling book of the same name to describe the con­stant, bewil­der­ing bar­rage of new tech­nolo­gies and all the result­ing soci­etal changes those tech­nolo­gies bring about. Any­one who has strug­gled to com­pre­hend a new, baf­fling and sup­pos­ed­ly essen­tial social media plat­form, any­one who has been dri­ven to paral­y­sis over the num­ber of choic­es on Net­flix, any­one who found their liveli­hood dec­i­mat­ed because of a hot new app knows what “future shock” is.

Tof­fler (along with his wife and uncred­it­ed co-writer Hei­di Tof­fler) argued that we are in the midst of a mas­sive struc­tur­al change from an indus­tri­al soci­ety to a post-indus­tri­al one – a soci­ety that bog­gles the mind with an over­load of infor­ma­tion and an over­load of con­sumer choic­es. “Change,” as they wrote, “is the only con­stant.”

Along the way, the Tof­flers man­aged to pre­dict the col­lapse of Amer­i­ca’s man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor, along with things like Prozac, temp jobs, the inter­net and the mete­oric rise and fall of ins­ta-celebs (Alex from Tar­get, we hard­ly knew you.) Oth­er pre­dic­tions – under­wa­ter cities, paper clothes and being able to choose your own skin col­or – haven’t yet come to pass. Still, they had a sur­pris­ing­ly good track record con­sid­er­ing these pre­dic­tions were writ­ten over four decades ago.

The video ends with a plea from not Welles, but Tof­fler him­self, who is seen address­ing col­lege stu­dents.

If we can rec­og­nize that indus­tri­al­ism is not the only pos­si­ble form of tech­no­log­i­cal soci­ety, if we can begin to think more imag­i­na­tive­ly about the future, then we can pre­vent future shock and we can use tech­nol­o­gy itself to build a decent, demo­c­ra­t­ic and humane soci­ety. […] We can no longer allow tech­nol­o­gy just to come roar­ing down at us. We must begin to say “No” to cer­tain kinds of tech­nol­o­gy and begin to con­trol tech­no­log­i­cal change, because we have now reached the point at which tech­nol­o­gy is so pow­er­ful and so rapid that it may destroy us, unless we con­trol it. But what is the most impor­tant is we sim­ply do not accept every­thing; that we begin to make crit­i­cal deci­sions about what kind of world we want and what kind of tech­nol­o­gy we want.

Find oth­er short films nar­rat­ed by Welles in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

Wal­ter Cronkite Imag­ines the Home of the 21st Cen­tu­ry … Back in 1967

The Inter­net Imag­ined in 1969

Mar­shall McLuhan Announces That The World is a Glob­al Vil­lage

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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  • AB says:

    “But what is the most impor­tant is we sim­ply do not accept every­thing; that we begin to make crit­i­cal deci­sions about what kind of world we want and what kind of tech­nol­o­gy we want.”

    Great post­ing. I came across the Tof­fler’s in 1985, while read­ing “The Third Wave.” They pre­dict­ed that in 10 years most Amer­i­can house­holds would own a per­son­al com­put­er. I laughed. Two years lat­er, I was the proud own­er of a Mac­in­tosh Plus.

  • Dana says:

    I watched the movie back when I was in Jr. High and would like to see it again as an adult. I remem­ber some of it, but not enough to com­ment on it.

  • thomas vesely says:

    a for­ma­tive book !!

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