Ben Franklin and the Internet

Is Franklin the inventor of the Internet?

Upon reflection, I've decided that Al Gore did not invent the Internet. Since it is an evolved system there are lots of contemporaries who can take some credit. But where were the seeds of this sprawling public place where people and information and thoughts mill around in a semi-organized fashion?

I’ve just finished reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson, and I want to nominate Benjamin Franklin as the true source of the Internet. As an inventor he was pretty preoccupied defining things like electricity, so later folk could get us computers. I’m talking concept here, not diodes, oops make that chips. Franklin conceived or developed and put into practice many of the basic aspects of the Internet.

Internet Pioneer

Benjamin Franklin, Printer
Benjamin Franklin, Printer

Networking

We seem to think of networking as a new social behavior. Franklin created groups to achieve his personal goals. He formed a Junto in Philadelphia and recruited other ambitious young men to join. Their charter was to meet regularly and discuss topics of personal or social improvement. One of the understood benefits was that Junto members would help other members with problems in business and life. He saw the benefit of networking early, organized his own network and then promoted the group and his own personal agenda.

Franklin was a joiner. In Philadelphia he became a Mason, and joined the controversial Lodge of The Nine Sisters while living in Paris in his later years. When he lived in London, he joined clubs and frequented coffee houses where he worked on furthering his and the colonies agendas.

Recommended version of Autobiography

Franklin’s is one of the greatest autobiographies of all time… but it was incomplete. Franklin ended his life’s story in 1757, when he was only fifty-one. In The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin, we get the rest of the story, in Franklin’s own words. Faithfully compiled and edited from Franklin’s papers by Dr. Mark Skousen— Franklin’s descendant, acting as his devoted secretary—this is the closest we will ever get to Franklin sitting down in his study in Philadelphia, dipping quill into ink, and finishing his autobiography.

Branding and positioning

Identity is the Holy Grail on the Internet. Be out there. Be recognized. Become a brand name. Franklin saw the gold mine in branding early on and practiced it all his life. He started defining himself publicly when he started his first business. He signed everything as Benjamin Franklin, Printer. He continued this practice throughout his life. He saw it as public statement of humility and as showing his common roots even after he was honored for his other accomplishments. He added another brand name that of Dr. Franklin. He received doctorate honors in England and began using the Doctor Franklin designation. He saw the value of image at an early age.

He recognized that his behavior affected how others saw and related to him. He drafted a list of behaviors to modify and worked on it. If he could craft a pleasing persona it would help him in life. He did; and it did.

Anonymous

Many if not most Internet travelers pop up under alias identities from time to time. Being anonymous has some security benefits, and is sometimes a result of some insecurity. Franklin was not afraid to put himself out front and proclaim his involvement. He was a great self-promoter, but he also saw the value in the anonymous author. Franklin didn’t create the anonymous author but he perfected it as a communication tool. He wrote some controversial articles for his brother’s paper and pretended they came from a widow named Silence Dogood. She was able to express opinions with an authenticity that a teenaged Franklin didn’t have. He used the pen name technique often throughout his public life, here and in England.

Recommended Biography

I've been a fan of Franklin since I read the Autobiography as a youth. I have several Franklin volumes on my bookshelf; many of them are treasured gifts. The Isaacson biography is the most compelling read on Franklin’s life. He takes us through Franklin’s life coupling background from the Autobiography with letters and other contemporary material. He paints on honest picture of the man, faults and all. The genius of the man comes shining through. I highly recommend it.

 

Work from anywhere

One of the most compelling aspects of the Internet is that we can work and play anywhere (anywhere there is a signal, that is). Forget work from home, think work from current chair. Working from home in Franklin’s time wasn’t unusual as many trades’ people lived over or under their shop or store. He worked hard to develop some independent sources of income and positioned himself so he could practice his subsequent vocations and avocations from anywhere he chose to live. He traveled extensively in the colonies, and lived for long stretches in England and France and traveled the continent. He remained active in business and political ventures wherever he was. He used letters, meetings, letters to the editor and emissaries to be his link. He carried his papers with him in trunks as he crossed the Atlantic. Wouldn't he have loved a laptop? The key thing is he saw his office as being where he was, not a go to place.

Feedback Driven

Restate your position, redefine your image or re-layout your site, as soon as you get the message from the ether world. Ok, the Internet offers instant feedback and Franklin’s pace was slower. It sometimes took months for a message to be conveyed, and more months for the change to be implemented. But Franklin was unusual for his time in his openness to feedback and his willingness to make tactical adjustments to reach his strategic goals.

In Conclusion

Ok, I've made my case for Ben Franklin as a major source for the Internet, in inspiration if not technology. Wait a minute - shouldn't electricity count as a technology contribution?

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16 comments

Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

What a great take on Benjamin Franklin! I love it. Truly, he may have been the originator of thought leading to the internet of today. I like him best, so I choose to think agree with your train of though. It's fun! :)


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 7 years ago

I admire Ben Franklin more than anyone in history!!!! He was amazing. Although I have to admit, I sometimes wonder if he really accomplished all that's been told. On my Myspace I have him as my hero.... I am sure Ben would have been an addict when it comes to the Internet.


jstankevicz profile image

jstankevicz 8 years ago from Cave Creek Author

Agreed Chuck. Ben would be hanging out in an Internet Cafe, possibly in Paris, keeping up on things...


Chuck profile image

Chuck 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

My vote is with you. I have also been a great admirer of Franklin since childhood. One can learn a lot from him and you can be sure that, were he still alive, he would have been among the first to embrace the Internet.


Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet 9 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

just read this...interesting..I think I will have to agree!


Guru-C profile image

Guru-C 9 years ago

Benjamin Franklin certainly has been one of the most valuable figures in human history. Extremely interesting hub!!!


spacebull profile image

spacebull 9 years ago from Space

That was interesting!


Anansi 9 years ago

I don't think the inventor of the internet would be an apropriate title, "networking" and forums are really quite old institutions , (take for the example the freemasons, wich would consist prior art since they where already around, otherwise he couldn't have joined them now could he), however considering the his work in the implementation of the public library I guess the title of pioneer of peer-to-peer would do him some justice :)


jstankevicz profile image

jstankevicz 10 years ago from Cave Creek Author

What a thrill that would be! In our setting, I'm sure he would get comfortable quickly then be like a sponge.


jhoffman 10 years ago

Can you imagine being able to sit down and talk with this man?! That would, I think, get the creative juices flowing for ordinary mortals!


jstankevicz profile image

jstankevicz 10 years ago from Cave Creek Author

Glad somebody is lookin at that blog! Hi fellow Ben Fan. Haven't done any special research on our 1st pres.


Ben Fan 10 years ago

i found this site from your blog, i think. i'm a fan of leaders of the revolution and like the resources. what do you have on george washington?


jstankevicz profile image

jstankevicz 10 years ago from Cave Creek Author

Hi offbeat. You could make the argument, but if you tied it to a kite would it fly as well?


OffBeatMammal profile image

OffBeatMammal 10 years ago from Redmond

Certainly a more worthy "inventor" but I guess the same argument could be pushed back to any of the great philosopher scientists - some of whom pre-date the US let alone the internet ;)


Arahorn profile image

Arahorn 10 years ago from The Entrace

Interesting read.


shopper profile image

shopper 10 years ago

Benjamin Franklin has several great quotes on money. Perhaps is best and shortest quote is ...

"Time is money." - Quote by Benjamin Franklin

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