Technology use is a major issue for our society. The issue is that we are all encountering more intrusive and more addicting technology and we have yet to master it. For better or for worse it is changing the way we communicate and rewiring our brain. In modern society it is hard to find examples of groups of people using technology vastly differently.
There are obviously isolated tribes of people living in Africa and South America. However, their abstinence of technology was caused by isolation, not by rational choice. The Amish are the prime example of a group in the West who are technology skeptics.
The Amish are a Christian church that trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s. They originated as a radical Christian sect of Anabaptism, their radical views were primarily
- The Christian rite of initiation into the Church that should be voluntary and only by people who understand the implications of their commitment (adults, rather than infants).
- The true church was an alternative community, separate from society and not interested in the politics of the day.
This is the kind of religious radicalism that had groups of Anabaptists slaughtered in the 16th century. The Amish migrated to the United States and Eastern Canada, but they haven’t forgotten their history.
Most Amish families own a book called Martyrs Mirrors. This thousand-page book chronicles the persecution of religious dissenters who suffered at the hands of the powerful. These stories remind the Amish that there is suffering in life and that Christian faithfulness is not popular and that the wider world is not to be trusted.
The skepticism about modern life was solidified in Amish belief long before they encountered technological innovations such as cars, electricity, and phones. The Amish however, are not Luddites who reject all technology, and are not people who live in isolated communities and shun the outside world. The Amish participate in modern life on their own terms. For example, the may use batteries but not electricity from the public grid.
A great example of how the Amish interact with the modern world is their use of transportation. For local trips, the Amish will use their trademark horse and buggies. For longer trips, they will turn to their neighbors to act as informal long-distance taxis.
Simplicity is Bliss
The Amish are a separate people, and a part of their identity is non-conformity. They value simplicity, obedience to God, and community values. Their simple dress and abstinence from ownership of cars and other technology is an acknowledgement their values are not reconcilable with much of modernity.
The amount of technology Amish use depends on the specific community of Amish people. Some groups use tractors to help with their farming, however most only use horse drawn farm machinery. In some Amish communities, there has been a rise in non-farm labor. This includes factory work, and construction. Amish contractors may use cell phones to communicate with supplies and sub-contractors. And, if you would believe it, some Amish contractors even use smartphones!
An Amish person using a smartphone was a shocking image to come across. This is where we can find the gems about the Amish and their unique relationship with technology. I will include a couple of sections from a book about the Amish to highlight their unique relationship.
The Amish and Technology
In fact, there are few pieces of technology that the Amish consider categorically out of bounds. Instead they regard most technology as morally neutral and focus on how it might be used. A dishwasher, for example, is not “evil.” But Amish families reject dishwashers because they eliminate household chores that parents believe are helpful exercises in training responsible, diligent children. In the same way, public utility electricity is problematic not because electricity in itself is wrong, but because wiring one’s home with multiple outlets in every room announces that the home owner is ready and waiting – even eager – to plug in any device on the market. It suggests that the decision to embrace whatever comes along is a foregone conclusion. P.89
In more progressive settlements, the use of computers for managing company bookwork or running computer-aided design (C.A.D.) programs has been the focus of recent debate and discussion. While some firms have outsourced their computer work to an English [non-Amish] associates, more common has been the adoption of computers that have a DSL line for email but no Internet, audio, or video capability. P.91
The further one moves away from the home – out of into the barn, the shop, or the distant construction site, the looser the restrictions on technology become. For example, many groups that strictly prohibit telephones in the home will allow phones to be installed in shops or in small booths near a shop or barn. The physical location allows the phone to be a work tool and not a device that interrupts meals or encourages long, private conversations. P.93
One of the upshots of the limit that the Amish place on technology is that they have become, in many cases, technologically creative and masters of innovation. Because they seek to control technology and not be controlled by it, they are constantly tinkering with things – “Amish-izing” them, as one man put it. P.93
It isn’t about abstaining from all technology, that is a naive and weak approach. The intelligent way of using technology is to make quality of life, and value judgements before adopting a piece of technology. Many people call this mindful technology use. It’s about using technology and not letting technology use you. The Amish are very simple people and in an incredibly complex world, we can look at their nonconformity as an inspiration.