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Making Friends With Franklin

Resources: Talking to Some Friends
Talking to Some Friends - Reference - Acknowledgements

If you’re a Franklin fan and would like to meet others, your best bet is The Friends of Franklin, a society based in Philadelphia. It publishes a newsletter called The Franklin Gazette, holds lectures and symposia on topics related to Franklin, and sponsors trips to places with Franklin connections, both here and in Europe.

There are about 170 FOFs around the world. We caught up with a few of them at a reception in the National Portrait Gallery. We wanted to ask a very big question: What would Franklin make—figuratively or literally—of today’s communications technology?

Everyone was game to give it a thought. After the reception, the conversation continued, fittingly, through e-mail. Other Friends joined in as cc recipients, and it was lost on no one that, somewhat like Franklin and his friends, we had formed a circle of correspondence. “It’s easy to imagine Franklin with a Website,” said Martin Mangold, president of Almanack Software and Consulting in Rockville, Maryland. “The way he gave chunks of his autobiography to various friends as he wrote it sounds like a work-in-progress Website.”

Former arts administrator Deane Sherman, also of Maryland, said that Franklin might feel very much at home in the age of e-mail: after a long decline in the practice of correspondence, many of us are now building up great bodies of writing, as people did in past centuries.

But don’t most of us think of e-mail as something ephemeral, as a kind of talk rather than a kind of writing?

“It is writing,” she said. “You have to set it down and make it clear. And he encouraged clear, concise writing.”

Diane Guntzel, a fifth-grade teacher in Clinton, Iowa, agreed that Franklin would like e-mail, mainly because quick communications can solve problems for people. She is a believer in constructivism in early education, which emphasizes problem solving and encourages the use of simple building toys. She thinks that Franklin, the great problem solver, would approve of this, and that he would see a big difference between technology as a means to a beneficial end and technology as a novelty.

“Something like play dough gets overlooked in schools now,” she said. “It doesn’t have blinky lights, but it gives the children a world to build for themselves.”

Roy Goodman, curator of printed materials at the American Philosophical Society, thought it important to say that Franklin would be fascinated, at the very least, by all that modern technology has to offer.

“Electricity had no practical use when he became interested in it,” said Mr. Goodman. “He wrote a letter to Barbeu Dubourg in which he wished that he could be embalmed and come back to see America in a hundred years. He said, ‘We live in an age too early and too near the infancy of science.’”

But isn’t it also easy to imagine Franklin seeing today’s constant bombardment of information as a cluttering of time better spent with one’s own thoughts?

“It’s a shame that people don’t have time to reflect a little more,” said Ralph Archbold, a Philadelphia actor who makes a living portraying his idol. “Franklin wrote, ‘The noblest question in the world is, What good may I do in it?’ Each day he would reflect, What can I do? At the end of the day he asked, Did I do it? That was the start and close of his day.”

You can reach The Friends of Franklin, Inc. at
(856) 833-1771
or at the Website listed on the Reference page.

Lesson 3
Introduction | Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Resources
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