Did Henri Bergson Predict Facebook in 1907?
In 1907, a French philosopher named Henri Bergson predicted Facebook. He called it Elan Vital and described it as “an invisible force which creates organized groups.” He said this force “could make someone a lot of money if it was put into something and activated with electricity.”
At the time, his idea was not accepted. Many people said it was crazy. Yet today, Bergson’s prediction seems to have come true. If you look past the old-fashioned style of writing, he sounds just like Mark Zuckerburg.
If this guy successfully predicted the coming of Facebook, is it possible that he can explain the void that Facebook is filling in our lives? Let’s look at some of his quotes. I will tell you what I think and you feel free to leave a response in the comments section. Here’s the first Bergson quote:
“The Elan Vital (Bergson’s name for Facebook) will have a huge impact on the world. It will go far beyond what its inventors intended. It will be a hypothetical energy.”
I was shocked when I first read this quote. It seems like he really predicted the existence of Facebook. Obviously, Facebook has “a huge impact on the world.” Although many people use it just to upload pictures of ridiculously cute cats and spy on their girlfriend (I’m still hoping mine hasn’t learned that custom privacy feature yet), I think the Facebook revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria and Facebook “events” such as Kony 2012 and the prosecution of Trayvon Martin’s killer are good examples of a “huge impact.”
Facebook definitely went far beyond what its inventors intended. I don’t think anyone, least of all Mark and team, could have imagined the implications of what they built. Here’s the next part of the Bergson quote:
“It is a hypothetical energy which will affect sex life as well as human activities and interests.”
This is an interesting and useful point. Bergson said it is a hypothetical energy. What did he mean?
A hypothesis is something that is thought to be real based on previous observations but cannot be proven until tested. That is definitely true of Facebook’s influence. Everyone is constantly talking about the “power of Facebook.” Companies that I work for tell me Facebook can get them more customers. Politicians I have met tell me Facebook can win them votes. Dictators in places where Facebook is banned like Iran, China, and Burma fear the power of Facebook to destroy their government. Yet trying to use that power always leads to mixed results.
For example, take Johnson & Johnson’s attempt to go viral on Facebook with the “Motrin Moms” campaign. One Google search for the keyword “Motrin Moms” (the actual name of their marketing campaign) and you see this:
The company thought that since moms between the ages of 24 and 55 are the biggest group on Facebook, that they should promote Motrin (ibuprofen) especially to them.
If Facebook was a “non-hypothetical energy,” this might have worked. Instead, it totally backfired. People hated it. The campaign cost millions and damaged the company’s reputation. People saw through all the marketing research BS, and attacked them viciously. You can watch the original commercial here.
In other cases, the “hypothetical energy” of Facebook had a positive effect: Dave Carroll was a struggling, unknown singer/guitarist from a tiny, country band called “The Sons of Maxwell.” He played bars in Ontario hoping for his big break. Then, in 2008, he took a trip to Chicago during which United Airlines broke his $3,500 Taylor guitar. United also refused to pay for the thing, so he recorded a song called “United Breaks Guitars.” You can listen to it and watch the video here.
This song got 11 million views, made him a millionaire recording artist, won him several multi-million dollar speaking tours, AND made him a TOP-LEVEL SOCIAL MEDIA CONSULTANT. Unbelievable. The “hypothetical energy” really worked this time. So Facebook’s power does seem to be “hypothetical;” an experiment each time it is used. I think Bergson’s definition is very good.
The last part of that quote is: “human activities and interests.”
Let’s look at another Bergson quote:
“If someone complains they are bored at work they might use the Elan Vital. Elan Vital makes the world more interesting.”
This almost made me laugh out loud. It’s so true. This quote also seems to say that feeling like you are connected with something larger than yourself is motivating.
In modern society, we are all small cogs in big machines. Facebook allows us to expand our horizons and see people we don’t know, learn about places we have never been, and get right in the face of big companies.
Not just seeing it but EXPERIENCING IT in a way that feels like real socializing. Posting a complaint on your Bank’s Facebook wall is a direct statement to a large (most likely evil,) and otherwise faceless organization. In the past, you would be confined to just leaving a useless comment card. Psychologists would say that anger would go inside you and make you angry again later. But a Facebook post (or a viral YouTube video) can be seen by the world and that’s empowering. It’s a release. It gives us a sense that we are special.
What are your thoughts?
SOCIAL MEDIA AND LOVE
It’s definitely true that thoughts of romance are present in a lot of social media interaction. You can see this in jokes, photos, comments, status updates, and private messages. But when socializing on social media, you have to be careful. You can easily get hurt. A lot of couples get introduced on Facebook and a lot of people break up because of it too.
What we do at Tokii is harness the energy of love and help you understand other people. We create meaningful interactions that are structured and let you see the truth behind someone you may consider as a potential partner.
Facebook clearly fills a void in our lives. Different people explain this in different ways. Jennifer Eby, the author of “The Effect of Facebook on Jealousy in Relationships” says it’s because Facebook is fun. Ashwini Nadkrani and Stefan G. Hofmann, the authors of “Why Do People Use Facebook?” say it’s because of the need to belong. But I think the best explanation is Henri Bergson’s. I also give him extra points for being able to see 100 years into the future.
Kirill Storch is blogger from Stockton, CA. He attended University of the Pacific where he majored in Political Science.
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