Alvin Toffler, The Man Who Brought Us The Future

To Alvin Toffler we owe this prediction: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Hardly any other phrase can sum up, so succinctly and with such conceptual clarity, the trials and tribulations of a large part of mankind, including the journalist that writes these lines. And Toffler, a former factory worker who dabbled in journalism, predicted other things that describe how Verb.Company conducts its business every day: emails, teleconferences, chat rooms (“electronic mail systems to replace the postman and his burdensome bags”). He also foresaw the ugly underbelly of modernity: higher divorce rates, the crisis of the family and the workplace, national and religious identities called into question. Even after his youthful Marxist convictions began to wane, he still questioned the workings of the system. His Future Shock and The Third Wave were written in spellbinding style, and he rendered into layman’s language concepts that would otherwise be too hard to grasp. Among his countless admirers that turned his books into bestsellers he counted AOL founder Steve Case and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In a way, he had predicted their rise. Even at the time of the sharp polarization of the Cold War, he saw past the ideological differences to see commonalities between the United States and the Soviet Union: they were both industrial powers, and the economic differences that seemed huge for contemporaries would probably deserve a little more than a few passages in history books a few centuries later. When the author of these lines was still a young correspondent, he had the opportunity to interview Alvin Toffler. An intellectual giant, he took his seat around a little table at a café in Buenos Aires with two young journalists, and not only was he responding their questions, but also asking questions himself, with a youthful curiosity that had not abandoned him at the age of 70. But not only curiosity drove him, but humility. He was asking these two young journalists why they believed this thing or the other, and he listened with attention. In other words, not only was he a great man. He was, first and foremost, a good man. He also proved true the Fallaci principle: The incisive Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci, who owed her fame to her daring interviews with world leaders, had said that the good interviews were hardly the work of the interviewer, because an intelligent interviewee would always provide good answers even when asked stupid questions. Some of Toffler’s predictions did not come to fruition, yet: submarine cities or space colonies. Yet life still goes on. And he can certainly be forgiven. Albert Einstein got some theories wrong, too. There is a bigger connection with Einstein, which goes beyond the intellectual achievements of each. Alvin Toffler was born to Jewish Polish immigrants in New York in 1928. His parents’ timely decision spared them the horrors that befell the rest of the Jews in Poland and in Europe a mere decade later. But as importantly, they brought to the New World the set of values and culture that made the U.S. thrive and that the Europe of the time was becoming too narrow to allow. We all know what came thereafter. We would just name Einstein and Toffler as the best arguments against racism and anti-immigration. Because there are some truths that once learned, should never be unlearned. Then again, we would probably be overrating the humility to understand it by those those who espouse either attitude, or both.

U.S. VW Owners Get a Lot of Cash; Europeans, a Pipe

 

Different regulations and laws will afford U.S. owners of VW diesel cars affected by the emissions scandal to get as much as $10,000 in a buyback of their cars. The company has pledged as much as $10 billion for about half a million car owners. In Europe, compensation may just include a visit to the dealership to have the engines repaired, with a tube that regulates air flow. For one thing, class action lawsuits do not exist in Europe. In addition to it, Europe does not clearly ban switch-off devices, the software item at the center of the scandal. An official at a European consumer protection agency was fuming. “It is inconceivable that consumers in the EU get treated differently,” Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation, said in a statement. “Volkswagen would be well-advised to offer a similar settlement to EU consumers.” It’s clearly not the end of the story.

Nespresso’s Biggest Rival Is In the Family

Bloomberg News reports that Nespresso’s sales growth has slowed from 30 percent annually in the last decade to 7 percent in 2015. Its biggest rival? Apparently Dolce Gusto, a brand introduced in 2006 for less discerning palates and tighter purses. It also appeals to the sweet teeth of that mysterious consumer group of “millennials,” who—analysts insist—behave like a monolith across geographies and economic status. To be sure, Dolce Gusto costs around 30 cents per serving as compared to more than 50 cents for Nespresso. This may also be related to taste changes over time. Nespresso is at its best in the espresso and strong black coffee category. Dolce Gusto, instead, is richer in cappuccinos and lattes. In any case, it’s a paradigm of business at Nestlé, possibly the biggest coffee brand, and an example of how to make money by having your right hand compete against the left one.