Why should the Amish approach to technology matter to the rest of us? I asked Donald Kraybill if he’d share a little today about Amish tech, and the upcoming conference “Amish America: Plain Technology in a Cyber World“:
Why should we be interested in Amish technology? The Amish are one of the few communities around the world that have deliberately tried to tame technology in the twentieth century. They are more self-conscious and thoughtful about the impact of technology on human communities and restricting technology than most Americans. The Amish experience offers a fascinating case study about the intersections between technology and human well-being.
What are the most pressing technological issues for the Amish? Amish businesses face significant challenges regarding the need for online connections to conduct their businesses. Access to the cyber network for business purposes soon spills over into daily life. It was easy for the Amish to say NO in the early twentieth century to cars and connections to electrical grid. However online access is not easy to control.
The second issue is access to smart phones for young people which give them access to all sorts of information which historically have been screened out of Amish society. Young people who become dependent on handheld devices may not be able to discard them after they join the church. The avalanche of new technology and its easy access for Amish youth creates an unprecedented challenge for the Amish elders and Amish traditions.
Why should someone attend the Amish Conference? All the leading scholars and researchers on Amish topics around the world will be here at the conference. It will be a fantastic opportunity for networking, and learning about the research and resources available on Amish communities of North America.
Who should attend the conference? We will have some fifty different breakout sessions as well as interesting plenary sessions. The content and focus varies widely. People who will find the conference beneficial include scholars, writers, professional service providers (healthcare workers, therapists, extension agents) as well as anyone interested in the impact of technology on human communities.
What non-technology topics will be covered? There will be numerous panels, seminars and presentations on topics as diverse as Amish quilts, healthcare screening in Amish communities, Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, the latest reports on Amish population growth and expansion, international perspectives on Amish life, TV reality shows such as Amish Mafia, the beard cutting trials in Ohio, Amish romance novels, teaching courses on Amish society etc. for a full listing see the conference schedule on the website.
Registration for the conference ends next Monday, May 20th. If you’re interested in attending, you’ve missed the early-bird discount, but that’s okay, it’s not a huge difference for regular registration (about $25 more for the 3-day event). You can register for the conference online or by fax/mail.
The conference is being held at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Elizabethtown, if you’ve never been there, is a charming small town located in northwestern Lancaster County. The heart of the Amish settlement is about a 30 minute drive away, but Amish have been moving into this part of the county in recent years, with some Amish farms lying just outside of town.
I will be at the conference and look forward to seeing any Amish America attendees. I’ll have more to share, but can say this much for now: whoever chose the conference name had a real stroke of genius!