Saturday, July 28, 2012

communication: 1730 and 2012

Last week, in touring various sites where Benjamin Franklin lived and worked in Philadelphia, I was struck by two things (among many others).

The first is that he viewed himself throughout his life a printer. It was a unique and powerful role in 18th century America. It allowed him a special camaraderie with working class citizens and tradesmen and gave him a perspective on hard work, focus and diligence that many of his friends - statesmen, wealthy farmers, educated scientists - did not have.

He brought this approach to bear in everything he did: inventing, diplomacy, business, science. 

Second, in his day, printing allowed him to control both the content and the means of delivery. He could determine what he wanted to share whether it was a damning critique of the current political or moral environment, or his Zen-like aphorisms captured in Poor Richard's Almanac. Profound wisdom for the common folk, delivered in easily consumable snippets. 

Today, everyone can create content and easily distribute it to the world with a single click of a mouse. What power that gives us. To drive change. To foment revolution. To share knowledge. To help others in need. To connect across the globe with people in widely different roles and unique perspectives.

He used his power to  manipulate communication to his own and his colleagues advantage. His early diatribes against British rule were made using his first (of many) pseudonym Silence Dogood. He cast himself as a middle-aged woman in Boston, publishing biting commentary in his brother James' newspaper at age 16.

Lessons to be learned - as we use our various early 21st century communication tools to improve society, expand global cultural awareness, encourage tolerance, drive collaboration. 

Franklin would surely be excited at the prospect.

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