What Amish Hackers Could Teach Tech-Frenzied American Consumers

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-06-09 Print this article Print
Amish Hackers

For the rest of American society, the approach to technology is in stark contrast, said Kelly. Most of us today use computers with high-speed Internet access, and we carry smartphones that we can use any time. We play video games, participate in Webcasts, use social media, shop online and engage in many other high-tech tasks.

The approach of the Amish is a bit different, he said. "They are using minimal technology rather than maximum technology. There's a delay. The plain folk are adapting technology but at a much slower rate than the rest of us."

And since technology continues to evolve quickly for the rest of society, Kelly expects that over time the Amish will continue to adopt more new ideas as they find ways to incorporate them. "They are trying things, seeing how they work and re-evaluating all the time."

What's particularly different about Amish people's approach to technology is that they are very selective, which wouldn't be a bad strategy for the rest of us, he said.

"The Amish have articulated what their criteria are, what they want as a strong family and community. That is a very powerful thing from which we can learn."

At the same time, technology is important for the development of society, said Kelly. If pianos had not been invented before Beethoven was born, we would not have received the gifts of his music, he said. If moving pictures hadn't been invented before Alfred Hitchcock was born, we would not have his film classics today.

What that means is that we should work to continue to encourage the development of new technologies that can keep inspiring new generations of Beethovens and Hitchcocks, while at the same time being more selective of which new technologies we choose to incorporate into our own lives, said Kelly.

"That's what I'm trying to do in my own life so I can be a better person, but I want to maximize the amount of technology" so others can share their dreams and talents and impact society in positive ways, he said. "Even the Amish depend on others to invent these other possibilities. We have an obligation to increase technology to give others possibilities. Today, there is some genius out there waiting for us to create a technology so they can share it."

Kraybill, the Senior Fellow at Elizabethtown College's Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, said that in America today there are 40 Amish "tribes" which include about 2,060 congregations composed of about 282,000 Amish members in 30 states and in Ontario, Canada. Their use of technology varies widely, said Kraybill, depending on their local congregations and beliefs. There is no one description of how all Amish people use or avoid technology, he said.

"The Amish today have become very entwined with 20th century technology, and that's very different than in the 19th century," said Kraybill, who is a co-author of a new book titled, The Amish.

Those changes will certainly continue in the years and decades to come on a congregation-by-congregation basis, said Kraybill. The use of computers in Amish households could eventually "leak into the house" in some of those communities over time, he said.

"There are some Amish communities that will change very rapidly in the next 20 years," he said. "There will be others that will remain rigid. I do expect that the spectrum of diversity will be wider" in the use or consideration of technologies such like computers in the future.

Today, though, the lure and dangers of modern technologies like cell phones are much greater on Amish society than other technologies from the past, he said. "Amish 13- and 14-year-olds can have a cell phone in their pockets and the world is in their pockets. That's more of a threat than past technologies due to their addictive, seductive nature."


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