the time to be vigilant is in times of crisis because that's when government assumes greater powers and you grant government those powers because you are frightened. But then government seldom relinquishes those powers," Jenkinson explained.
Jefferson was a great intellectual and gifted leader. The digital revolution would have given this unusually curious man many tools to further his research. "He wrote 22,000 letters with a quill pen," Jenkinson said. "Today he would be able to be in contact electronically, either by voice or by e-mail, everyday of his life. It would take six or 10 weeks for a letter to cross the Atlantic Ocean, sometimes longer. Nations have gone to war because of the delays in the exchange of ... diplomatic information.
"Today he would be able to communicate with his philosophic friends and his scientist pals," Jenkinson said, "and he would be able to stay in contact with all the people that he loved. His sense of assurance would go up."
No doubt, so would Jefferson's remarkable production. "Jefferson was essentially a fact gathering machine," Jenkinson said. "He spent a fortune that he didn't have on a library of 7,000 volumes." The insatiable president used this library in his mission to govern intelligently. "He was essentially creating a reference library, which he could mine to sort data and to apply statistics and information to the American conditions," Jenkinson said. The president was able to find obscure facts that often required great personal effort. "It would have taken him hours, days, maybe even months to answer a question that you and I can answer instantaneously."
As a student of American history, Jenkinson has also studied the shifting demographics as the country moved from family farms to agri-business. He is deeply concerned about the fate of small towns in his beloved home state of North Dakota. There, he founded the Marmarth Institute to highlight the loss of rural America. He hopes the Internet can offer options to people who eschew big city life. "The possibilities for living in isolated places, not having to live in a city, having the benefits of urban culture but to be de-urbanized, to be diffused all over the landscape in Jefferson's sort of ideal pastoral way -- all these are being made possible by the Internet," he observes.
Online educational opportunities might compensate for the lack of resources in small towns, he said, and provides world-class teachers to children in impoverished areas. In addition, the Internet can build new communities that don't exist in the physical world. And, Jenkinson believes it will be a resource for people who could otherwise be shunned in mainstream society. "It has another [implications] for people who are ridiculed because they are black, because they have a disability, because they're fat - because their sexual orientation is unusual," he said. "Suddenly, they find they are not alone in the world. It's an extraordinary and almost immeasurably beneficial tool that has come to the world 250 years after the life of Thomas Jefferson."
As Jenkinson considers the benefits of digital technologies, he also provides sharp analysis of its potential to do harm. Like television channels, the Internet is populated with misinformation, endless shopping opportunities, empty amusements that don't encourage critical thinking. Although Jefferson would have loved the educational resources, speed and efficiency available online, the balance of online content might not have met his approval.
"He was a social idealist." Jenkinson explained. "If we were Jefferson's people there would be 495 channels devoted to enlightenment and there'd be five channels devoted to 'stuff.' ... If we were Jefferson's people we would have taken charge of our lives and we would have used these tools to deepen democracy. We haven't done it."
Jenkinson admits that today there is far more government than Jefferson would have liked. The president envisioned a decentralized system