Questions on the Amish, electricity, phones, and other devices

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  1. Do Amish use technology?
  2. Why do Amish restrict technology?
  3. Why do Amish prohibit public electricity?
  4. Can Amish talk on the telephone?
  5. Do Amish own smartphones?
  6. Do Amish ever use the internet?
  7. Why can Amish use certain technologies outside the home?
  8. Do Amish use tractors?
  9. Do Amish ever adopt new technologies?
  10. How do Amish adapt technology?
  11. What is “Amish electricity”?

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Do Amish use technology? Amish people use technology to different degrees. Some Amish churches are very conservative and traditional, permitting few modern conveniences.

Others allow a wide range of devices and technologies, including lights on buggies, tractors, solar panels, bovine artificial insemination, stripped-down word processors, chain saws, smartphones, and propane-powered refrigerators.

Nearly all Amish forbid telephones in the home, public electricity usage, and the operation of motor vehicles. Read more.

Why do Amish limit technology? Do they think it’s evil? In the Amish view, technology is not evil in and of itself. Amish recognize that technology can lead to evil, however, and subsequently weaken or destroy family, church and community. This is why Amish carefully weigh the potential effects of adopting a given technology.

Why don’t Amish allow electricity in the home? An electric outlet invites any type of device to be plugged in and used. Restricting access to electricity in turn limits other technologies which Amish view to be potentially hazardous to their families and communities, such as television and the internet. However, most Amish will use batteries to power devices likes flashlights.

Can Amish talk on the phone? All Amish can talk on the phone, though some rarely do, while others spend a lot of time on the phone.

Many employ a “phone shanty” arrangement, where a common phone, shared by a number of households, is kept inside a small shack or shed located by the roadside. Other Amish churches may permit phone lines to be installed inside businesses or barns.

pay-phone-new-wilmington-pa-community

A very basic telephone arrangement. Many Amish phone shanties have a dedicated line rather than a pay phone. New Wilmington, Pennsylvania community.


Do Amish use cellphones? Some do. These are typically adult males in moderate to progressive communities, business owners, or in many cases, Amish youth. The use of internet-enabled smartphones remains controversial. Read one Amishman’s view on cell phones and the internet.

Do Amish ever go online? Some do. Amish working for non-Amish employers with internet access may be online daily, in order to communicate with customers via email for example. Others have internet access via smartphones. Amish do not use computers and the internet in the home. Read more on the Amish and computers.

Why can Amish use some restricted technologies away from home? Isn’t this hypocritical? In some cases Amish can use certain technologies outside the home–the telephone is one example, or an Amish builder using power tools plugged into the public electric grid at a non-Amish homesite.

shop-lighting-two-varieties

Two varieties of lighting are visible in this photo – natural lighting via a skylight, and gas-based lighting (circular device). Taken in an Amish-owned grocery store in the Holmes County, Ohio community.

Amish recognize the value in using certain technologies. They also see danger in unlimited use. Placing limits on ownership and restricting how certain technologies can be used can be seen as a thoughtful way to resolve the tension between the benefits and drawbacks of modern gadgets, allowing the good while attempting to restrain the potentially negative effects.

Amish do not condemn others (non-Amish) for technology use. In a word, they attempt to manage technology, rather than allowing technology to manage them.

Do Amish use tractors for farming? Tractors are often permitted in Amish churches, but usually used in a limited manner. The tractor’s engine is typically used to power other devices, though most Amish don’t permit it to be used for field work.

This preserves the use of horses, an animal with an important symbolic and tangible value to the Amish. Tractors are often equipped with steel wheels rather than rubber air tires to discourage its use as a vehicle on the road.

As with other technologies, rules vary on tractor ownership and usage across the over 2,000 individual Amish congregations. Read more on Amish and tractor use.

Do Amish adopt new technologies? How? Amish do change over time, though more slowly than non-Amish people. New technologies may exist on the fringes of the community, and even be adopted by more progressive members. Eventually a church will consider the matter of whether to accept the technology or reject it. The decision is typically raised by the bishop and put to a congregational vote.

How do Amish adapt technology? One common way this occurs is when innovative members of the community tinker with an otherwise restricted technology and alter it so that it may be used in a manner acceptable to the church.

furniture-shop-saw

Different Amish accept different types of technology. Pictured: Furniture shop saw, powered by line shaft system. Ashland, Ohio.

Examples include adapting hydraulic and pneumatic power to operate shop tools, or producing stripped-down non-internet-enabled computers which provide only basic functions such as word processing or spreadsheet programs (the “Classic” word processor is one example of the latter, actually produced by the similarly technology-restrictive Old Order Mennonites).

Tech “workarounds” allow Amish to access benefits of technology while limiting full-fledged use and staying within the bounds of the church Ordnung.

What is “Amish Electricity”? “Amish electricity” is a term used to describe the use of pneumatic and hydraulic power among Amish as a substitute for conventional electric power (see Donald Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture, p. 210).

This is common in Amish workshops as a means of powering tools such as saws or nail guns in a way that is acceptable to the church. One example can be seen in this pneumatically-powered ceiling fan in an Amish store.

Not all Amish permit “Amish electricity.” The more traditional Amish may power tools using a line shaft system which can be seen here.

More questions on the Amish? Get answers to 300+ questions in 41 categories at the FAQ main page.

References:

  • Scott, Stephen E. and Kenneth Pellman. Living Without Electricity. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 1990.
  • Hurst, Charles E, and David L. McConnell. An Amish Paradox: Diversity & Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
  • Kraybill, Donald B., Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt. The Amish. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
  • Umble, Diane Zimmerman. Holding the Line: The Telephone in Amish Mennonite and Amish Life. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996.
  • Kraybill, Donald B. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • Ems, Lindsay. “Amish Workarounds: Toward a Dynamic, Contextualized View of Technology Use.” Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 2.1 (April 2014): 42-58. Web. <http://hdl.handle.net/1811/59690>.

To Cite this Page: Wesner, Erik J. “Technology.” Amish America. Erik Wesner, 8 Apr. 2015. Web. [Date Accessed]. <http://amishamerica.com/technology/>.

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