It’s nothing new to observe that people feel overwhelmed by technology nowadays. The Amish fascinate many for a related reason. They’re a society of people who live with restricted technology, yet by many measures appear to be thriving.

An Amish man walks with sons and a bicycle

Northern Indiana. Photo by Jim Halverson

Here’s a new article on the Amish and technology where writer Alex Mayyasi looks to the Amish for ideas that non-Amish can use to get back in control of technology in their lives – rather than the other way around.

First, Alex spoke with a friend of mine in Indiana named Ola Yoder for this piece. A couple of quotes from Ola reflect what I think are general Amish views on the necessity of technology, and when it’s taken too far:

‘I go to Chicago and see people walking with their smartphone out in front of them and almost walk in front of a car,’ he says with a chuckle. ‘It’s the craziest thing in the world. We don’t want to get away from [in-person] communication.’

And:

‘We go to banks and use ATMs and are very much involved in tech, whether we like it or not,’ he says, ‘because the world is changing.’

Contrary to the oft-repeated idea that Amish believe technology is “evil”, Amish do use technology out of necessity. And for the most part I don’t think they feel technology is evil in and of itself (improper use can certainly lead to evil however…).

Thoughtful use

In the case of the Amish it’s a more thoughtful use. It’s also worth remembering that the Amish in one community can certainly feel the Amish in another community are moving along too quickly with regards to technology. It’s not like all Amish share one view on what technologies are acceptable. Disputes over technology have even led to schism in the past.

Field in front of Amish home in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania

New Wilmington, PA Amish community. Photo by S.I.

But you can probably say that all Amish would agree that it is important to be mindful of where technology might lead you. With that principle in mind, different churches and communities make different decisions on what devices and gadgets they are comfortable with accepting – and how they can be used.

A good example is the tractor. Many Amish own them, but most do not use them in the fields. Rather, they use the engine power to drive farm machinery. Also, these tractors are equipped with metal wheels, rather than rubber tires. That makes them less roadworthy. On the other hand, there are some Amish who use tractors not only in the fields but for regular transportation on the road.

Garnett, Kansas Amish tractor and trailer

Tractor in the Garnett, Kansas Amish settlement, with old truck bed repurposed as a trailer. Photo by Don Burke

Three ideas

Having examined the Amish, Alex gives three tips for more thoughtful technology use, which I have boiled down here, along with my comments in italics:

  1. Put gadgets and technologies through a testing period. Observe how you use them and place restrictions on them if need be. I will say it may prove to difficult to put away a $1200 iPhone if you start to feel it is doing more harm than good, but I get the point here. 
  2. Have a set of principles that help guide decisions on technology. I’m not sure if this fits exactly what Alex means, but here’s one of mine – any apps with annoying notifications that disturb the peace will get silenced/deleted. I value peace – which might have something in common with the practice of most Amish to not have disturbing phones ringing in the home.
  3. Be okay with being different. Alex notes that the unusual approach of the Amish has led them to survive over centuries. He also points out that “Most Silicon Valley CEOs severely restrict their own children’s access to phones and screens.” This seems to me an indictment of their industry. I’m perfectly okay with not having the latest gadget, or being up-to-speed with the newest apps. That comfort level may come more easily with age, I suspect.

Read the article in full here.



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