This is the time of year when interest in the Founding Fathers of America is at its peak. Right around Independence Day you see plenty of red, white and blue, and hear talk about the Continental Congress meeting to create, and eventually sign, the Declaration of Independence.
In this age of air travel, the Internet and mobile phones, however, few of us realize just how difficult it was to do, and how much effort it took for them to pull off that declaration. Just getting all the parties together in Philadelphia for that meeting was a major effort, requiring hand-written letters to be delivered on horseback to every representative in every state. Think about that the next time you complain when email is down for an hour.
The big issue, though, was gathering everyone together. Back in those days, being part of the Continental Congress wasn’t a full-time, well-paying job like it is today. It was a moral obligation—which means it didn’t pay very well. So when a meeting such as this was called, everyone had to leave their real jobs (most were farmers or plantation owners) for a month, two months or sometimes longer. In the meantime their businesses usually suffered. John Adams, for example, often struggled to make ends meet and Thomas Jefferson (despite the outer trappings of his life) died in deep debt, although his participation in politics wasn’t the only, or even the most significant, factor there.
Still, it was a huge sacrifice for all of them, even those who lived locally in Philadelphia. Which makes one wonder how things would’ve been different had they had webcasting available to them.
For one thing, they wouldn’t all have had to gather in a stuffy, sweltering room while they carved out the tenets that founded the United States. Instead, they could’ve all stayed home and participated from a distance. (Without the travel perhaps we would’ve been celebrating the fourth day of May instead of July.) They could’ve taken a couple of hours out of their day to meet and then spent the rest of the time with whatever business put food on their tables and fancy powdered wigs on their heads.
Adams and Jefferson were the primary architects of the document itself—Adams supplying many of the principles and Jefferson using his persuasive writing abilities to create the actual content—so they probably would’ve led the session with the other participating through chat. Picture the core ideas being part of a PowerPoint presentation, then switching to a Word document to review the details.
If there were disputes (and there were many), after some debate they could’ve set up a poll to keep things moving along. For example, “We’ve narrowed it down to ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of…’ A) Happiness B) Good times C) Excellence D) Free beer. Please indicate your preference by voting now.”
Since we’re assuming all the modern technologies, video would’ve likely played an important role in the webcast as well. It’s a lot easier to make a personal connection with a group of people when you can see them and they can see you. For an impassioned orator such as Adams, being able to present with sight as well as sound would be very effective; it would also help keep Benjamin Franklin from multitasking during the meetings.
Of course, webcasting wasn’t available back in the 1770s so they had to make due with face-to-face collaboration. Makes you appreciate what you have today, doesn’t it?
So what do you think? Would webcasting have produced the same results? Who else in history could’ve used the technology effectively?