Benjamin Franklin joins Junto, mandates deeper tele-presence and understanding between Net citizens. By David Metcalfe, Sr. Writer at PlanetShifter Magazine
Benjamin Franklin joins Junto, mandates deeper tele-presence and understanding between Net citizens. By David Metcalfe, Sr. Writer at Magazine

"Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers. " - Victor Hugo

"Junto is a discussion format originated by Benjamin Franklin which we have generously remixed ...for collaborative telepresent dialogue." - Gabriel Shalom

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Ideas that center on universal needs reemerge to fit the current manifestation of those needs. Perennial seeds return year after year, flowering as conditions allow, they have no need for replanting. A similar process happens with ideas that address the basic needs of a community, like communication and respect. The Junto project (see: exemplifies this process, it is actively aware of it and moves forward not only as a means to support an idea, but also as a means for guiding the emergence of technology that can support the idea. Flowing from intentions set out by Ben Franklin, gained by him from efforts by people like Francis Bacon, who in turn learned what they knew from luminaries of the past, Junto is a contemporary manifestation of a very powerful idea and mechanism for realizing the germination, growth, and dissemination of new ideas. Junto is an idea that supports the development ideas!

So what's the big idea? Perhaps we should let Benjamin Franklin gives us a better understanding:

"I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss'd by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positive opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties." - Ben Franklin, Autobiography

Mutual improvement in a time of globalized thinking moves beyond the individual personal growth and local community envisioned by Franklin and his peers. The new Junto takes advantage of current technology to provide a means of exploring these ideas through advanced communication.

In its current form the Junto project seeks to provide a means to bring a sense of "presence" back to communication. The anonymity of text based communication has lead to a sense of isolation. Sustainability requires open lines of communication throughout the community, it requires coordination across communities. We can't remain isolated from each other or fail to learn from a wide variety of experiences if we are going to see a better world.

Projects like Junto are seeking ways to work with current technology, in this case Twitter, file sharing, video conferencing, and message board platforms, to help coordinate both the process of communication and the process of learning how we communicate ideas and more personal experiences like emotions. What Franklin and his group facilitated with their meetings reappears here, however now the conversations, essays, thoughts and collaboration can be digitally documented, reexamined, re-purposed and explored. The digital medium allows the current incarnation of the Junto greater freedom in the means it uses for "mutual improvement" .

Franklin had a similar idea regarding resource sharing, and this lead to the creation of the first public library:

"At the time I established myself in Pennsylvania there was not a good bookseller's shop in any of the colonies to the southward of Boston. In New York and Philadelphia the printers were indeed stationers; they sold only paper, etc., almanacs, ballads, and a few common school-books. Those who loved reading were obliged to send for their books from England; the members of the Junto had each a few. We had left the ale-house, where we first met, and hired a room to hold our club in. I proposed that we should all of us bring our books to that room, where they would not only be ready to consult in our conferences, but become a common benefit, each of us being at liberty to borrow such as he wished to read at home. This was accordingly done, and for some time contented us.

Finding the advantage of this little collection, I proposed to render the benefit from books more common by commencing a public subscription library." - Ben Franklin, Autobiography

Now, as funding for physical libraries begins dwindling in many communities, new solutions are emerging that come closer to Franklin's intentions than the libraries we have come to know.

Technology is providing a means to embody the ideas of the past in ways that come closer to their ideal.