Since one of my daughters attends the University of Virginia, I get to go to Virginia every once in a great while. You may not know this, but Thomas Jefferson is pretty big around there. (This is kind of like saying that Henry Ford is “kind of big” in Dearborn, MI). Things tend to follow a tradition at UVA. That is, things tend to be done the way Thomas Jefferson wanted them done. One of those traditions is that students are referred to by their year in school. Thus, students are a “first year”, “second year”, “third year”, instead of a freshman, sophomore, junior, etc.
I love traditions. Especially when there isn’t a clear, single “right” way to do something. (There are some things that are done in the name of “tradition” that are just wrong and shouldn’t be done. That would be a different topic than this though). Referring to students by year is a terrific tradition. Any “outsider” can easily understand the system, it clearly connotes a status. It allows for some level of being an insider, if someone ask you if your daughter is a “senior”, you know that they are an “outsider”, without being so obtuse that someone can’t quickly pick it up.
On my latest trip, I was thinking about how Thomas Jefferson would react to today’s society. My family woke up in Dearborn, MI one day and was in Charlottesville, Virginia in time for dinner. Given that in 1800, it would take about two weeks to make it from New York to Illinois, I’m pretty sure that Thomas Jefferson would marvel at how quickly and easily we travel. We were able to visit my daughter over the course of less than a week. Two days were spent traveling. Well, actually, less than two days. We spent part of the travel day to Virginia visiting with my daughter. We spent part of the travel day returning to Michigan to “catch up” from traveling.
Beyond physical travel, I wonder how Thomas Jefferson would react to the virtual travel that we undertake. We video conference with my daughter regularly. We get to see her face, see her emotions, her body language, hear the tone of voice, etc. Through the magic of FaceTime, or Google Hangouts, it is almost like being there with her. How would Thomas Jefferson have used these tools? How different would the founding of America have been with remote tools and remote travel so readily available?