A choice to not be embedded into the modern world

Blog topic #4, August 3, 2021

For many, when the word ‘Amish’ is mentioned, we envision an idyllic, green Pennsylvania countryside…horse-drawn buggies, a simpler world, farming, religion, fine handmade wood furniture and an aversion to technology.

From the outside looking in, I believe the source of most of our curiosity lies in their customs, values, beliefs — especially their thoughts and behaviors surrounding technology. For those of us who cannot live without our palms gripping our phones 24/7 and rely on computers for our livelihood, it is a wild concept to fathom. It is curious to imagine a world within our world where this is simply not the case. We cannot compute that there is a thriving society that chooses to rarely embrace technology — that doesn’t know classic, beloved songs, movies everyone has watched, or are aware of the latest news. The Amish community are a prime example of a group of a community who willingly and decidedly chose to rarely embrace digital technology, thus creating a digital divide between us and them.

What lies in this aversion?

According to an article in NPR titled “Amish Community Not Anti-Technology, Just More Thoughtful,” author Jeff Brady argues that the Amish aren’t totally averse to technology — they are just cautious on the impact it will have on their community and relationships.

“Many outsiders assume the Amish reject all new technology. But that’s not true…The difference between Amish people and most other Americans is the deliberation that takes place before deciding whether to embrace a new technology. Many Americans assume newer technology is always better, and perhaps even inherently good.”

Brady continues, “In Lancaster County, the Amish population is OK with using electricity, but they reject the grid that brings it into most Americans’ homes. That’s because they want to maintain a separation from the wider world.”

They do not want to be too embedded in worldly things, and they want to remain focused on their faith and God. Technology, they feel, can detract from this.

An article from The Guardian interviewed an Amish man, Daniel Weaver, on his lifestyle and choices. The author, Ian Birrell, writes about Weaver:

“[He] does not vote, drive a car, read a paper, listen to music, watch sport of any kind, own a mobile phone or use a computer…Instead, he has returned to the Amish tradition of farming, enjoying a homespun lifestyle that eschews things the rest of us take for granted — from televisions to trouser belts, in case they distract from a devotion to God.

Jeff Smith, a writer for the Washington Post, writes in an opinion piece that the Amish community and family groups will discuss if the technology will benefit them, and they vote on if they will assimilate the technology into their lives. They are cautious, which is the opposite of how most Americans view technology — we covet it, acquire it instantly and form a reliance on it. The Amish do not.

“When a church member asks to use a new technology, the families discuss the idea and vote to accept or reject. The conversation centers on how a device will strengthen or weaken relationships within the community and within families…one of the church members wanted to purchase a hay baler that promised to be more efficient, even as it enabled him to work alone. The members discussed the proposal — yes, the new machine might increase productivity, but how would community connections be affected if he began haying without the help of others, and what would happen if his neighbors adopted the same technology? The risk to social cohesion, they decided, wasn’t worth the potential gains,” Smith writes.

Smith ends his argument with a nugget of wisdom that we can all take with us. Yes, the Amish are divided from the outside world in many ways. However, there may be some goodness and truth in what they practice — some advice we can all be reminded of.

“Americans will never abandon technology for a horse-and-buggy life, but millions of us have begun weighing the costs of constant connectivity. When pondering how to strike the right balance, we might do well at least to pause and consider taking a personal version of the Amish approach. “Go visiting” to see an older relative, invite a neighbor for a meal, spend an evening with a loved one just talking — no glowing screen in your pocket or on your lap or in your hand begging for attention. There’s a reason people have been connecting like this for eons: It’s good for them.”

Perhaps the Amish are not connected to technology — they are connected to one another instead.

Brady, J. (2013, September 2). Amish community not anti-technology, just more thoughtful. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/09/02/217287028/amish-community-not-anti-technology-just-more-thoughful.

Guardian News and Media. (2018, December 15). ‘Our faith will be lost if we adopt TECHNOLOGY’: Can the Amish resist the modern world? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/15/faith-lost-if-adopt-technology-amish-resist-modern-world.

Smith, J. (2020, February 18). Opinion | The Amish use TECH differently than you Think. we should emulate them. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/to-learn-how-to-practice-humane-technology-look-to-the-amish/2020/02/17/c79fa0ba-36fc-11ea-bf30-ad313e4ec754_story.html.

Working on my MS at Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University; Colorado State University alum. All opinions are my own.