In today's world, I find a number of my friends are growing more and more cynical, and seem to have lost their sense of wonder. We order Papa John's and there, on the pizza, are chunks of pineapple from Hawai'i, ham that was sliced extra thin from a pig in South Carolina a week ago, and all of it gets cooked on my whim in just over 30 minutes. A man brings this pizza, still hot from the oven, to my doorstep from ten miles away, and I pay him with a scrap of paper that is legal tender anywhere in the country.

My friends, who are ordinarily pretty hip people, dig in to the pizza without a second thought, blasé as can be, without a moment's hesitation, because this transaction is commonplace these days.

But what would Benjamin Franklin think of this?

That's my secret. That's the little tiny candle that I keep burning in my mind that lets me see everyday events like they're brand new. If old Ben ever heard me say that, he'd be a little worried, since he lost a sibling to the candlemaking industry... I think it was falling in a vat of lye. But I digress.

Why Benjamin Franklin?

Because he was a hip guy, even in the 1700s. He's been cited as "the last person who ever read every book in the world," because after his lifetime, it quickly became an impossible task. His curiosity and his inventive streak gave us electricity, the public library, and the bifocal lens. All the same, his belief in God made him humble and open to the miraculous. Lastly, Poor Richard's Almanack proves he understood human nature about as well as can be expected. His wide range of interests mean that he would have a basic knowledge of politics, science, medicine, the English language, and engineering (as it was). The time period he was from is not so far removed from our own to make analogy impossible or tedious when explaining technology...

Wait, "explaining" ? Why would you ever have to explain technology to Benjamin Franklin?

Oh, right. Well, because the way I figure out what Ben Franklin would think of something is to imagine bringing him here in a time machine and showing it to him. For example, letting him observe the entire process of a pizza delivery would involve explaining the telephone, the pizza, the corporation, the automobile, overnight shipping, fresh fruit, and probably a few other concepts that are foreign to the 18th century. If the pizza boy is not Caucasian, you have to discuss The Civil War and slavery. If you're using a cordless telephone or, God help you, a cellular phone, more explaining. Including satellites and space flight. Good luck!

Okay, right, so you explain this stuff to him. Why does that make anything cooler?

Well, simple things like that are usually made cooler when you realize how many years of "progress" have led, seemingly inexorably, to the ability of an American citizen to buy a pizza whenever he wants. Think of how many hours you'd have to spend explaining everything that led up to it! The pizza would be long-cold or long-gone, and you'd barely be on mass production and the automobile. What if he stopped you in the middle of Henry Ford's brainchild and asked about child labor or the Great Depression?

Right. That would suck. You'd be there, for like, weeks. And how will this instill me with a sense of wonder?

Now picture yourself going into work one day, prepared to do your miserable eight-hour shift at the cube farm in front of the computer, interrupted by trips to the bathroom, cafeteria, and copier... but when you get to work, Benjamin Franklin is there. And he's really polite and everything, but--to put it bluntly--he has questions. Imagine the sheer volume of things he wouldn't understand, the number of things you'd have to explain, the field trips you'd have to take him on... Soon your sense of wonder about the little things in life will grow like a bacterium in a nutrient-rich petri dish.

Okay, so: The world is really groovy if you see it through Benjamin Franklin's eyes?

Yeah. This does pre-suppose some assumptions. I'll list them here to avoid disappointing anyone who actually manages to bring Benjamin Franklin forward through time.

The Management cannot be held responsible for Benjamin Franklin: ...or any other "failings". This is a gedankenexperiment. Do not try this at home. Thank you, that is all.

Ben Franklin's Unanswerable Question

"In my era, a businessman might work as much as eight or nine hours a day, and pass the greater part of his life in the effort to amass sustenance and material comforts. In a future so free from drudgery and want, how do people occupy their idle hands?"

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