How Would You Explain Facebook To Balzac?

Dragos Roua Updated
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Suppose that, by some extraordinary breach in the time-space continuum, you get to talk with Honore de Balzac in a coffee shop for about half an hour. Balzac just arrived, he has no prior knowledge whatsoever about how things work in this world, and he just sees you getting really angry (or extremely happy) by looking at some strange, shiny thing you maneuver with your palms and fingers. So the task is to explain to him that you just got angry over a virtual fight about politics, or, alternatively, you just got very happy because your Facebook page just got over 10k likes. And both situations happened because you somehow interacted with that device.

In case you don't know who Balzac was, well, he was kind of a cool guy. By and large, he would have been the equivalent of an _influencer_ today. He died almost 200 years ago, in 1850, a few months after marrying the love of his life. He was quite popular in all the _social salons_ of the time, a prolific and famous writer ("_La Comedie Humaine_", his main work, is considered one of the cornerstones in European realism). He was also a businessman and a politician, both endeavors in which he failed hard, hence, escaping haunting creditors was a constant activity in his life. In other words, he was like the majority of influencers today: famous and broke.

But it's exactly this similarity which should make things easier for you and I admit I tried to make the task easier. Why? Well, because I'm almost sure that, no matter how hard you'd try, you'd fail at properly explaining to an educated, smart and social aware person from the 19th century what Facebook is.

The reason for that is what I call "the cognitive weight". In other words, it's the amount of cognition that a person has to perform in order to come to terms with a certain property of the environment. The cognitive weight of fire, for instance, is quite small, because every educated, smart and social aware person knows what fire is and how to stay safe in the presence of it. On the other side of the stick, any complex construction, like a social network over a distributed electronic information protocol, like Facebook, would be almost impossible to digest in half an hour.

For that reason, we may look to Balzac either like the new gods of a new, alien world, or like complete lunatics. Both descriptions have in common the fact that _there is no possible understanding of any of them_ with the kind of reasoning that made Balzac an adapted person to his society. So he must resort either to magic, in order to explain this perceived anomaly, or to consider it some sort of pathology, a mental illness.

I find the cognitive weight to be one of the most important characteristics for an adapted individual. More important than the physical part, to be honest. A person from the 19th century will have no problem to adjust physically to our world (in some areas it would be healthier for them to live in our times) but from a cognitive point of view it would be impossible for them to understand _and integrate_ stuff like convenient air travel, space travel or communication networks that are using invisible waves which are then gathered together in a device the size of your palm. For that person, these things would be what StarTrek teleportation and worm holes are for us, the 21st century educated, smart and social aware persons.

So, why this long introduction?

Because, my friend, we live in such peculiar times that these cognitive differences are already manifesting within the time frame of a single generation. You don't have to be from the 19th century to experience drastic adaptation problems due to cognitive weight.

And the biggest cognitive weight of all is what we call blockchain. For people which are sharing this time with us, but we were born, let's say, 50 or 60 years ago, the idea that money can exist outside governments and banks is pure craziness. Self-sovereignity is impossible. It's Sci-Fi, therefore, it cannot exist.

So, next time you get some resistance from your friends when you tell them about Bitcoin (or decentralized social media sites running on the blockchain, like Steemit) be gentle.

Imagine you have in front of you a Balzac who's trying really hard to understand Facebook.

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