Thomas Jefferson Building A Bridge To The

Thomas Jefferson: Building A Bridge To The 18Th Century Essay, Research Paper

Of all the time periods of civilization known to man, how can one determine which era was the most successful in their

beliefs and achievements? Which was the most powerful and positively developing? Looking at and studying the past can

help gain an intellectual knowledge of the most important objectives and concepts of that time. In many eras, new ideas

and ways of living were formed. For example, the men of the fifth century came close to inventing what is now called

science while also developing the atomic theory of matter. In Medieval times, a relationship with God and nature was

defined while keeping a theocratic view on technology. In the twentieth century, the fascism, nazism, and communism

concepts were rapidly spreading. But of all these time periods, the twenty-first century differs the most. As we

approached the new millennium, new discoveries advanced faster than anyone had ever imagined. With technology

growing, inventions such as the microwave oven, television, video games, computers, etc., have become more popular than

ever. Is this the guidance we need in order to be prepared to take ourselves to the future? Not according to Dr. Neil

Postman of New York University. He believes that the expansion of technology is being abused and that our future is

headed in a direction that can become uncontrollable. Looking ahead means finding useful ideas from the past in order to

direct our adaptable future.

According to Dr. Postman, the most gifted minds developed in the eighteenth century, during the Age of

Enlightenment. This was a century of Voltaire, Adam Smith, Thomas Payne, John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas

Jefferson. Intellectual power, honesty and courage were the traits of the most gifted thinkers. Four ideas were drawn by

Dr. Postman from this important era that he believes will help guide us into the future. The importance of language, the use

of technology, the use of our knowledge, and the changes in the meaning of democracy can all be drawn from the

eighteenth century.

In the eighteenth century, ideas of political and religious freedom, education, the nation state, progress and

happiness were developed in part by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson represents everything of his time, so the eighteenth

century could also be called the Age of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson made no theoretical discovery of importance, but his

range was without limit. He was a political scientist, linguist, architect, inventor, philosopher, writer, farmer, and, above all,

apostle of reason, choosing reason over superstition. The eighteenth century was considered the beginnings of the modern

world, which is a useful contribution for our future due to the confidence in power of language. There was much needed

emphasis on clarity by philosophers and scientists so humanity could gain an insight on how the world works. While many

positive ideas developed in this century, such as the ones listed above, inhuman beliefs also existed. The burning of witches,

child labor, slavery in America, the oppression of women, equal rights, etc., were only some of the issues that created

controversies. These issues generated arguments that made them insupportable in the minds of many Americans. In order

to progress, language was used in these situations to make compromises and smooth out any issues that had to be resolved.

The eighteenth century also marks the great expansion of the role of education spreading throughout the nation.

There was more of a focus on reading and writing, and one’s intellectual ability and viewpoints, than ever before. A new

world of communication was forming, and the people who were involved were educated individuals that adjusted to the use

of pen, paper, and book. Most of the American population had many desires and necessities, such as property and voting

rights, accessible and affordable trading, protection from the government, and a federal or state bank in order to be granted

loans for a mortgage. All of these issues require education in the language. Knowing how to read and write, and to be able

to speak in a professional sounding manner were all important if an opinion on a certain issue needed to be heard. The

importance of language was rising, and this was one subject that nobody could overlook without being left behind.

Thomas Jefferson believed in human progress, but he did not believe that human progress included technological

changes. He was against the growth of industrialism and he wanted the United States to remain a society of small

independent farmers. Many political leaders wanted to commercialize and centralize the country, such as Alexander

Hamilton, creating the growth of cities and factories, and this Jefferson feared. The rise of factories made many workers

useless since machines were able to complete the job. These workers became desperate and their way of life changed due

to technology. Technology affected the American industry in nearly every field, and minor changes were being made

constantly. Of course the growth of industry required certain technological advances and the development of a new type of

business organization, but the industrial revolution in America came too quickly. Technology readjusted the nations

economy in many positive ways, but a certain distance should be kept. Dr. Postman believes Americans could be able to

use technology without abusing people by separating the good from the useless.

The Communications Revolution brought the end of the Enlightenment. More and more newspapers, pamphlets,

and books were developing and becoming available to many people. Literacy became the key to citizenship in the United

States. In the eighteenth century, information was not considered useful, and it certainly was not an asset to democratic

processes and progress. The term “myth information” was brought up by Dr. Postman, which he defined as not enough

information. Devoting oneself to information equals utter nonsense. Issues such as crime, starvation, abuse, and bad

education have nothing to do with insufficient information, according to Dr. Postman. Americans must be able to

differentiate information and knowledge. One must question, work and research, and verify certain information, which

determines whether it is useless or if it is actually beneficial knowledge.

Many changes occurred in the eighteenth century, some of which could be attributed to technology. During this

time period, the entire country was baffled with the ideas of industrialism versus agriculture. In the 1820’s, the country was

still overwhelmingly agricultural, but new ways of producing goods and making a living began to take place and an industry

was created. Many Americans shifted towards industry, which caused America’s industrial revolution, which was slow in

coming. Advancing in technology changes the entire meaning of democracy and Americans need to know what changes to

support and what changes to resist.

The eighteenth century, although full of many useful and productive beliefs and concepts, cannot give us all the

answers dealing with where to look for guidance for the future. Dr. Postman is not stating that the United States today

should become the eighteenth century, but simply that we should use it for what it’s worth. The Age of Enlightenment

contained the most creative thinkers who were able to develop ideas for their own era which should inspire people of

today’s world. Thomas Jefferson, considered one of the most gifted minds and someone who represents everything of his

time, did not believe that technology was most important. In fact, he felt that technology abused people and that a distance

should be kept from it. Some of the main ideas that came from this century is what Dr. Postman believes should be used

today to help guide our country into the future. He feels that reviewing the past for useful and productive ideas could help

lead the United States in a better direction towards our future. From the ideas of the eighteenth century, Dr. Postman came

to the conclusion that the use of language should become of more importance mainly by focusing on reading and writing,

that a certain distance should be kept from technology, and we should learn not to abuse it, that there should be an

understanding of the differences between knowledge and information, and finally that technology could change the entire

meaning of democracy. These concepts are believed to be helpful and useful as we prepare to approach the future in a

different manner.

Dr. Neil Postman in the end believed that the ways of the eighteenth century are incomparable to any other eras

known to man. He feels we need to look ahead, but by saying “look ahead,” he means look into the past for ideas for our

future. The eighteenth century was certainly a time period well known in history and the most important because it is the

beginning of the development of the United States. Technology seems to be taking over. It will one day dominate the

world when people no longer have any control of the situation. But people must learn to separate the good technology from

the useless, and this is what Dr. Postman believes as well. The topic that he spoke about, Building a Bridge to the

Eighteenth Century, and how the United States must build a bridge not from the past, but to the past, interested me a

great deal. It was a topic never really discussed in the classroom because it covers two issues, problems in the future with

solutions from the past. Dr. Postman was a very exceptional and intellectual speaker. While keeping the audiences

attention, he also delivered a lecture with interesting yet controversial aspects. Ideas from our extremely significant past

should definitely be used when the United States needs guidance for the future and technology is one that should not be

overused, for our future could lead to disaster.


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