To quote, unquote and requote – 21st Century illiteracy?

Alvin Toffler is often quoted as saying “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Numerous powerpoints, wikis, documents and articles use the quote in order to talk about digital literacy and management. Many cite his book “Future Shock” and “Rethinking the Future”. In the latter for he co-wrote the forward. You’d be forgiven to think it’s ‘his’ book when in fact it is the compilation of many future-thinkers, edited by Rowan Gibson in 1997.

Amazon promote the the book as being authored by Alvin Toffler (Author), Heidi Toffler (Author), Rowan Gibson (Author). However, in 3 pages the Toffers did write from 275, I wonder if the quite often cited is taken from the line

“Not since the dawn of the industrial Revolution have managers had more to learn (and unlearn) about the art of business leadership”

In Future Shock, we talks extensively about the changing nature of society and our move from describes as

“We are moving from bureaucracy to Ad-hocracy (pp123) … Ad-hocracy, the fast moving, information-rich, kinetic organization of the future, filled with transient cells and extremely mobile individuals (pp131)”
and
Accelerating knowledge acquisition, fueling the great change engine of technology, means accelerating change (pp31)”

Future Shock is jam packed with predictions that have been re-worked into the digital-age context by many talking about shifting and changing nature of education BUT I cannot reference to the 21st Century specifically, let alone this actual quote. It is highly frustrating as we (Judy and I) wanted to use it in print — and have been earnestly reading though Future Shock, Powershift and Rethinking the Future … but with no success.

I wonder if someone out there in the meta-verse — perhaps someone who has quoted or adapted it … might give us the actual reference … as we’re thinking it’s either an adaptation or perhaps in some other media that he said it.

Kevin Kelly says in Rethinking the Future (1997), pp 253 … “The curious thing about technology is the way it resolves complexity into simplicity”. In this case – what seemed easy has become quite a chase. What may be true is that it was simple to copy and paste. I’ll let you know if we find it … or if you find it first …

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14 thoughts on “To quote, unquote and requote – 21st Century illiteracy?

  1. …which was not very satisfactory.

    I did try and email Toffler, via his webmasters – but they were unhelpful, ‘protecting their client’.

    Anyone have Toffler’s email addy?

    • Thanks, we trolled the books … and the quote on his site to us looked like a designer had pulled things in, so not sure how hands on he was with it. Certainly one of the most interesting of situations in the process for us. We have opted not to use it as a ‘flag’ quote — and seems to use to be a quote that has emerged from a few other pieces that are similar, but not exact. Many academic journals and citations just name one of 3 books — none we found — or the MQ librarians could find it.

  2. Please could you tell me what page the illiterate of the 21st century quote is located in rethinking the future I really need to refernce it for an assignment.

    • that is the thing, apart from the quote being quoted on his website (presumably by some designer), as a literal quote — it remains un-found. Let me know if you find it.

  3. It’s certainly an amazing thing. I have been doing a lot of interesting reading and quote hunting just for the heck of it as a result. Have you got ANY idea how many quote collections are on line – some even from ‘authoritative’ organisations – that do not give the proper origin of the quote. (I guess they can’t) It’s amazing! As to the Toffler quote – we may still run with it as the ‘official’ web site of the Tofflers has it listed as a quote. If it’s listed there then it’s an official record of his ideas – then that is the only authoritative source beyond a book. Thrill of the chase Dean :-)

    • I need it for my dissertation and somewhere (I cannot find that source) said it was in the foreword (p. viii) in Gobson’s “Rethinking the Future” but I could not find it. No one has it referenced. Amazon should be pulled up for saying he co-authors the book.

  4. Found this on wikiquote. Don’t know if it is accurate but at least it says the quote is in ch. 18 of Future Shock.

    Misattributed
    Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.
    Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy as quoted by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock (1970), ch. 18

    • Alvin Toffler – Future Shock Page 271 of 362
      …Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research
      Organization phrases it simply: “The new education must teach the
      individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its
      veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the
      concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new
      direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man
      who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.”…

  5. Sorry to bump an old thread, but I wanted to thank you for helping to narrow down the citation. I also thought I’d point out that the sentence right before the Future Shock quote listed above is another missing piece of the misquotation puzzle.

    “By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education. Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy of the Human Resources Research Organization phrases it simply: ‘The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.'”

    Thanks also for the link to the quote on Toffler’s site. It would be quite ironic if the popular misquotation had been copied by someone associated with the site and “officially” attributed to Toffler, even though he may never have said it (at least in this form).

    • no worries, it’s something that comes up time and time again. The consensus is that the quote is an amalgamation, perhaps by someone publishing online or reporting in a media piece. The elements appear entirely Toffler’s and indeed on the official site the quote stands, but to me it’s more interesting that this is now an almost stock-quote and that almost no one considers if it is true. Ironic indeed – welcome to the web.

  6. Pingback: » Mistakingly attributed 2Toffler.Made mistake befor… Langwitches Twitter Feed

  7. Fascinating! I love this discussion. It’s certainly illustrative of the transformative and slightly disingenuos sound byte era we live in!

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