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photo from Wired magazine

In Amish Country, Lancaster County, a quiet behind-the-scenes battle is happening–it’s business vs. the bishops, in a discrete tussle over modern America’s favorite portable gadget, the cellphone.

Tensions have risen over the now common device.  “Sometimes I wonder if we’re not getting to a point where some of our people don’t respect church authority the way they should,” says a frustrated spokesman for Amish bishops. That’s from an article out today at Lancaster Online.

So why is the mobile phone so big here, where elsewhere (though definitely not everywhere) in Amish America it’s less frequently seen?

Many say it comes down to one factor, and one factor only:  business.

Lancaster County is one of the most entrepreneurial of all settlements.  The phone has gradually snuck its way into the community, apparently starting way back in the 80’s.  Many Amish now have cellphones, particularly business owners.

The requirements of running a bumping wood shop, retail sales business, or construction crew now somehow seem to demand technology that Amish have long managed to do without.

But are these increasingly prosperous Lancaster Amish entrepreneurs getting something wrong here?

Some take that view.  Church leadership often worries about members’ priorities.  In Kraybill and Nolt’s Amish Enterprise, an Amishman from another community comments that the Lancaster Amish are ‘almost hyper about making money…some businesses are very successful and handling A LOT of cash and are RICH period.   That affects the types of houses they build for themselves and for their children, where they travel, where they eat, and what they own.’

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Whether that’s on the mark is another issue altogether.  But back to the phone–with more and more Amish depending on cottage industry, is it really that indispensable to succeed at business?  After all, Amish have had thriving businesses since well before the cell or even the landline were that common.

In Kraybill and Nolt’s Amish Enterprise, one shop owner complains that ‘conservative leaders “say that you can run a business this size without a phone.  I’d like them to try it.  You really can’t.”‘

But another Amishman in the Lancaster Online article feels differently: “A cell phone would come in handy, but I don’t need it,” he says. “You get your wants and your needs mixed up sometimes.

“Besides,” he adds, “I’m not aware of any church district in Lancaster where they actually are allowed.”

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