The three visionaries of the last century who shaped the digital present

In less than three decades the world changed substantially; concepts such as artificial intelligence, big data, telework, cryptocurrencies, globalization, prosumo and many others are terms native to contemporaneity. However, a number of 20th century writers, journalists and academics anticipated the times and predicted the overwhelming digital present that surrounds us.

Who are the three visionaries who predicted the convulsive hyperconnected present?

By Gabriel E. Levy B.

Alvin Toffler was born in New York in 1928, graduated in Philosophy and Letters, obtained a PhD in Sociology and dedicated his entire life to journalism, research and university teaching.

Unlike other academics, Toffler did not limit himself to the study of the social and communicational phenomena of the time, but focused on foreshadowing the technological changes that humanity would experience in the coming decades and their likely impact on people’s lives.

Toffler wrote numerous revolutionary works that, even at the time, were declared “far-fetched”, “impossible” and even “stupid”. However, in spite of the unfortunate disqualifications of his colleagues at the time, if Toffler’s work is analyzed in the present, it is possible to affirm that he was right in practically all his predictions.

The main works published by Alvin Toffler were The Shock of the Future, in 1970; The Third Wave, in 1980, and The Shift in Power, in 1990.

The shock of the future became, in a short time, a worldwide bestseller for its premonitory thinking of many of the phenomena of the present that seemed impossible at the time.

Perhaps the most important of these predictions was the statement that the future of humanity would depend “not on industrial and post-industrial production, but on knowledge”; that is, by then he was talking about the phenomenon of prosumption, which would motivate an active participation of audiences, co-creation or the consolidation of a knowledge society as the next step after the revolutions of agriculture and industry.

He also predicted “the shift in power”, especially of the media, and studied the new transformations of wealth.

Another important prediction of Toffler was the so-called “telework”. He stated that there would come a time when, thanks to technologies, companies would move the “thinking” workforce to the home, in search of greater economy, efficiency and quality of life.

In one of the most relevant sentences of his work, he stated that:

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” [1]

Herbert Marshall McLuhan

A Canadian professor of literature and communication theory, McLuhan is recognized as one of the founders of media studies and has gone down in posterity as one of the great visionaries of the present and future information society.

Perhaps McLuhan’s most significant contribution, and the one for which he is remembered, was coining the term global village to describe human interconnectedness on a global scale, generated by electronic means of communication. His most famous phrase was “the medium is the message”.

McLuhan constructed the concept of the global village based on the impact that communications had on society. This change was brought about by the massification of radio, cinema and television, surpassing written content.

“Electronic media, with their demand for interaction, would restore our lost tribal consciousness, but those tribes would no longer be small, isolated groups because the new media would spread across the planet, making us part of a global village.” [2]

For McLuhan, civilization, which is ultimately the global village itself, is comparable to the culture of writing and, therefore, he divides history into four phases: agricultural, mechanical, electrical (means of communication) and technological.

“A computer, as an instrument of research and communication, will be able to increase information retrieval, make the massive organization of libraries obsolete, recover the encyclopedic function of the individual, and transform it into a private line of rapidly customized marketables.” [3]

With the concept of the global village, McLuhan not only predicted the dissolution of economic, social and cultural borders between nations, but also anticipated a new type of hyperconnected society, laying the foundations for a powerful concept that years later would be taken up by Manuel Castells and called the network society.

Marshall McLuhan’s studies were pioneering in the field of information and communication and the influence of new media and technology on modern society.

McLuhan opened a debate that still persists on the influence of modern media on man in the post-industrial society.

Yoneji Masuda

He was a renowned Japanese sociologist and professor, whose professional and academic activity was of decisive importance in the strategic definition of a model of technological society driven by public policies. At the same time, he was one of the pioneers in the conceptualization of the idea of the information society.

In 1984 Masuda published the text An Introduction to the Information Society, in which he characterized information as society’s most valuable asset for the following decades. A vision of the future that, by then, was shared by Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toffler, and which ended up predicting many of the great sociocultural elements of contemporaneity.

For Masuda, the information society is a process of profound evolution of life and the intersections between people, governments, faculties and organizations, as a consequence of the intensive use of information and communication technologies (ICT), which facilitate the creation, distribution and manipulation of information and play an essential role in social, cultural and economic activities. [4]

The information society is seen as the successor of the industrial society. Relatively similar would be the concepts of post-industrial society proposed by Daniel Bell.

In conclusion, although we might think that the convulsive hyperconnected present is the result of an essential social and technological development, in reality it is a systemic evolution that, since the last century, authors such as Toffler, McLuhan and Masuda predicted in an astonishing way, anticipating many of the social and cultural phenomena that are the subject of discussion today.

The work of these authors continues to be a very relevant input in contemporary times to better understand the complex digital reality that surrounds us.

[1] Toffler, A. (1973). The shock of the future. Plaza y Janes Editores, Barcelona. Available at
[2] BBC World (July 21, 2017). “Mashall McLuhan, the ‘prophet of the digital age’ who predicted the internet 20 years before it was invented“. Available at
[3] Ibid

[4] Trejo Delarbre, R. (2001). “Living in the Information Society. Orden global y dimensiones locales en el universo digital”, in Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnología, Sociedad e Innovación. Organization of Ibero-American States.