Future Shock on the streets of Manhattan

The latest in my ongoing series of photos from my travel: discarded books on the streets of New York (near Union Square). Note Future Shock at the top of the pile. In my experience, this is one of North America's most discarded books -- it's a reliable yard-sale find, a couple copies can be had at any decent used book store, and they even turn up on the street sometimes. I've sometimes dreamed of rescuing all these poor, abandoned futures and making a ziggurat out of them. Link

Update: From the comments, Vincent sez, "Here's even more Future Shock color-based art." (Photo: "Lots of Future Shock" by Joshua Callaghan)


  1. I was justing re-reading Future Shock yesterday, and it’s startling because of how relevant parts of it still are – and how dated the rest is. It was written well before the rise of the internet, that’s for sure.

  2. Future Shock is indeed to stacks of old paperback books as Frampton Comes Alive or My Name Is Barbra is to crates of old LPs. But The ESP Papers isn’t so common, and The Medium Is the Massage, if it’s in nice shape, is fairly collectible.

  3. Readwrite makes a good point about the McLuhan book. I recently taught a cultural studies class in which it was assigned, and we actually had to postpone lectures on it while we waited for the book to come back into print and ship to the university bookstore.

  4. My old roommate is in the habit of leaving books he’s read in random spots around NYC, though I doubt any of these are his. I think one of the reasons Future Shock has such a high turnover rate still is that lazy used bookstores (like the one I just quit) see the word “future” and shove it in the sci-fi section.

    @Father Brown: In his book Chaos & Cyberculture Timothy Leary wrote that among his top favorite books, which included Gravity’s Rainbow and Neuromancer, was Magister Ludi.

  5. Hah, this really is a common find. A neighbor threw out a few books in a box onto the street here in Brooklyn last month, and Future Shock’s bright pink cover was on the top of the pile. So I adopted it and read through a bit of it. It’s sensationalist and repetitive, but that’s OK- it’s outdated so that makes it cute.

  6. RE: Thriftstore LPs. Aside from alll the Christmas and religious records, I always find numerous copies of Herb Albert and the TJB’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights.” At one time, I made it a point to buy a copy from every thrift store or garage sale I went to. Just have one copy now, though…

  7. A quick note on the location of where Cory found the book. Union Square is a big dumping ground for books for one big reason: The Strand. I live down the block from it and every day books that aren’t bought by the used bookstore are left behind on some corner.

    Here’s a few books I found on the street within a block of the Strand a couple of years ago:


  8. The Women Studies department at my college (University of New Mexico) has been getting rid of enormous piles of Mary Daly books lately. I guess that’s the WS equivalent of Future Shock.

  9. I remember when I was working over at the community college library (MCTC represent!) and we were getting rid of a whole bunch of old media, and I came across a nice, minty library copy of Future Shock on VHS… you know, the one with Orson Welles in it.

    I gave it to my friend and editor Billy, and he reviewed it:


    I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, and Orson Welles.

  10. Tee-hee! I “rate” visits to thrift-stores based on the number of copies of “Future Shock”, “Iacocca”, and Michael Crichton books I can count.

    Overheard in the car: “I don’t know if I wanna stop at the south Salivation Army store this week– last week was a 5 Iacocca and I don’t expect it’s gotten any better.”

  11. I’ll just say that I’ve been working in used book stores for almost 7 years now, and you have no idea the kind of stuff you see over and over again.

    Nora Roberts. John Grisham. Suze Orman. Dr. Phil. Left Behind Series. etc

    I’ve thrown out a fair share of thousands of duplicates of these.

  12. “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler is great. I understand (I think?) he re-wrote the book at some point (sometime in the 90’s?) to make it less dated, but the zany characteristics of the original version have their own value. I used to read my copy using a screaming voice all the time on my radio show, with crazy noise playing in the background. The very first chapter is priceless — sounds like one of Russ Meyers’ shouted intro rants to one of his films. I have that exact copy above (background is bright orange though). Weirdly, I also bought mine on the sidewalks of New York City, about ten years ago, at some homeless person’s book/magazine sale on the sidewalk.

  13. @Glossalalia Black: That review is great. Now I gotta see that movie. Actually, the whole thing about kids changing their skin color isn’t too far flung now.

    @T.A. Adjuster: That’s AWESOME. As a practitioner of thrift fu, I think I may have to incorporate a scale like that when I codify the discipline.

    @Deadfrog: Ah, as a recent ex-pat from the land of used books, those pictures struck a chord. Pre-millennial computer hintbooks, decade-old travel guides and Super 8 film manuals are all landfill bait. Better to donate them to a shelter or some other charity, though, than just leave them on street corners.

  14. I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Passages. I see that thing at least twice as often as Future Shock, with its rainbow title.

  15. oops, sorry! warmestregards already commented on Szott’s work!! Good to know I’m not the only one :)

  16. “The Medium is the Massage” is a hoot. An illustrated pop-culture version of McLuhan’s dense prose works.

    Inside is a picture of an egg with a logo printed on it, a technology that was apparently a predecessor of inkjet technologies.

    There’s a trippy record album roughly based on the book. Well worth looking for.

  17. I’m still waiting to be emancipated from the Industrial Age workplace model wherein workers converge in one place (the factory then, the office now) to do business. Toffler predicted we’d eventually move past it, in “The Third Wave.”

    The technology’s here, so why are we still schlepping off to our cubicular cells every day? The US is still stuck in the Nineteenth century if you ask me.

  18. glad someone mentioned “The Third Wave”, Nick D. – it’s my favorite of Toffler’s works. so many interesting things were reflected on or theorized about in it. it’s a bit harder to find on the street than “Future Shock”, i’d imagine.

    from Toffler’s wikipedia page

    The Third Wave @ wikipedia


  19. I’m still waiting to be emancipated from the Industrial Age workplace model wherein workers converge in one place (the factory then, the office now) to do business. Toffler predicted we’d eventually move past it, in “The Third Wave.” The technology’s here, so why are we still schlepping off to our cubicular cells every day?

    Totally!!! not to mention the absurdity that is “rush hour”, and all the wasted energy and money in commuting and operating buildings (offices) that are only used 1/3 of a day. I also highly recommend everyone read The Third Wave, or at the very least this primer (or “Cliff’s Notes”) version thereof.

    In this vein, I also recommend Thomas Malone’s The Future of Work, which has its origins in the Organizations of the 21st Century initiative. MIT’s Center for Coordination Science (CCS) is now the Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI), which includes Hal Abelson, Henry Jenkins, Rodney Brooks, Eric von Hippel, and a slew of other interesting people and overlapping organizations.

    The Wikipedia article on organization theory is also a good starting point.

  20. In the UK, the most common books in charity shops (thrift stores) used to be ‘Jaws’ by Peter Benchley and, for some reason ‘The Music Machine’, which was the book of a fairly obscure late 70s film. On the vinyl side, it was ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ (and somewhere in the BBC Radio 2 archives is a great documentary about that record and why it was so popular) and Leo Sayer’s first album. I used to check for all of these in any charity shop I visited. I also considered buying spare copies and redistributing them to shops that were bereft.

  21. I love the pictures of the Future Shock spectrum. I wish I could get a closer look at the blue/green covers so I could test my theory that the reason the sequence shades so smoothly from green to blue is that the cyan pigment has resisted fading and the yellow pigment hasn’t.

    Bunnyman, Whipped Cream and Other Delights remains quite listenable. However, I suspect the sheer number of copies originally sold had something to do with the young lady on the album jacket.

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