- First Wave is the society after agrarian revolution and replaced the first hunter-gatherer cultures.
- Second Wave is the society during the Industrial Revolution (ca. late 17th century through the mid-20th century). The main components of the Second Wave society are nuclear family, factory-type education system and the corporation. Toffler writes: “The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy.”
- Third Wave is the post-industrial society. Toffler would also add that since the late 1950s most countries are moving away from a Second Wave Society into what he would call a Third Wave Society. He coined lots of words to describe it and mentions names invented by him (super-industrial society) and other people (like the Information Age, Space Age, Electronic Era, Global Village, technetronic age, scientific-technological revolution), which to various degrees predicted demassification, diversity, knowledge-based production, and the acceleration of change (one of Toffler’s key maxims is “change is non-linear and can go backwards, forwards and sideways”).
In this post-industrial society, there is a lot of diversity in lifestyles (“subcultures“). Adhocracies (fluid organizations) adapt quickly to changes. Information can substitute most of the material resources (see ersatz) and becomes the main material for workers (cognitarians instead of proletarians), who are loosely affiliated. Mass customization offers the possibility of cheap, personalized, production catering to small niches (see just-in-time production).
The gap between producer and consumer is bridged by technology using a so called configuration system. “Prosumers” can fill their own needs (see open source, assembly kit, freelance work). This was the notion that new technologies are enabling the radical fusion of the producer and consumer into the prosumer. In some cases prosuming entails a “third job” where the corporation “outsources” its labor not to other countries, but to the unpaid consumer, such as when we do our own banking through an ATM instead of a teller that the bank must employ, or trace our own postal packages on the internet instead of relying on a paid clerk.