The Amish & Technology: Why They Restrict It

Amish do use modern technology – but often with restrictions & adaptations

amish technologyMany people believe the Amish reject all or most modern conveniences. Practices vary among groups, but many Amish do in fact use a large measure of modern technology. This may range from everything from solar panels to diesel-powered laundry machines to cell phones.

Technology and Ordnung

Amish churches regulate use of technology through a set of oral guidelines known as the Ordnung. Amish leaders aim to slow or prevent change if a given technology is seen to be a threat.

Amish see threats in technologies which provide easy contact with worldly ideas and values (television, automobiles), or those which may break down the family or community, by serving as distractions or eliminating the need of relying on others in one’s community.  Amish also feel that certain labor-saving technologies take more than they give, robbing their children of the ability to learn the value of hard work, for example.

In some cases, after careful evaluation, consensus may develop around a particular technology, which may lead to its being adopted by the church district and incorporated into the Ordnung.

Why do Amish avoid certain technology?

amish phone technology
Amish phone shanty in Pennsylvania. The phone is seen as both a useful tool and a potential threat

Amish do not forgo technology from a belief that modern innovations are evil. The Amish are cautious over what a given device can introduce into a community, however.

The automobile is one example—when a family owns motor vehicles, mobility is made much easier.  Family members may spend extended periods away from home, affecting family ties.  Easy transportation can bring one to cities and other areas which Amish tend to view as place of worldly temptation and sin.

However, Amish acknowledge that the car has real benefits, and most perceive a need for the car in certain situations.  Some Amish may hire a driver and Amish “taxi” for transport to the hospital, for large shopping trips, and to visit relatives in other communities.  An Amish business owner may also have an English employee who drives him on business.

Owning technology vs. using it

The Amish draw a line when it comes to owning a technology, vs. using it.  Generally, owning a given technology is seen as more threatening, as it tends to allow the technology to become part of everyday life, and may make use too convenient.  Amish are aware of the admonition that “the luxuries of one generation become the necessities of the next”.

Certain technologies are generally considered alright to be used, however, in certain ways.  As seen in the example of the car, while an Amishman will not own or drive a motor vehicle, he may occasionally hire a driver to take himself or his family on longer trips which would be outside of the range of the horse-and-buggy.

The inconvenience and expense of hiring a driver, however, usually discourages frivolous use.  However, the Amish consider personally operating a car to be a step too far.

amish buggy technology
Most Amish accept technologies that make buggy travel safer, including electric lighting and hydraulic brakes

In much the same manner, Amish may use technologies in certain situations, though they wouldn’t necessarily own those technologies, or use them in other circumstances, such as in the home.

Builders may use power tools when far from home and lacking any other source of power, an Amish office worker may have an internet account and use a computer in a non-Amish workplace, or a business owner may make use of electric lighting while running a market stand rented from a non-Amish person.

In recent years Amish have struggled with issues that have arisen due in part to the miniaturization and proliferation of technology.  Difficulties have been introduced in some communities with the rise of easily-concealed technologies such as cell phones.  Cell phones can not only easily infiltrate the home but typically offer internet access as well.

The Amish & Other Technologies

Amish use a variety of other technologies. These may vary from small home appliances to power tools to batteries. The Amish may derive power from battery electricity, which may be converted to 110-volt current through use of an inverter.  This allows battery power to operate devices that require higher voltages.

They may also use pneumatic or hydraulic systems to power some equipment and appliances.  Amish have long made use of unequivocally non-threatening conveniences such as flashlights and calculators.

At the same time, possession of such technologies such as radios, the internet, and television remain off limits in the Amish Ordnung, though some Amish may be exposed to these in the workplace and in other venues.

amish farm technology
Horses and mules restrict the speed of change in Amish society

Donald Kraybill on the Amish & Technology

On the occasion of a conference on the Amish & technology, scholar of the Amish Donald Kraybill shared some further perspective on the topic. Here are two of his answers to questions on the Amish & tech:

Why should we be interested in Amish technology?

Donald Kraybill: 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?

Donald Kraybill: 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.

The pace of change in Amish society

Amish value tradition, placing more stock in the ways of their forefathers than in the latest innovations.  At the same time, economic and practical pressures exist, and they realize that in order to survive, and provide a viable lifestyle for their youth, they must at times adapt.  Thus, one has seen more technology usage permitted in recent years, particularly in conjunction with the rise of small business in Amish society.

Nonetheless, technology is an issue heavy on the minds of many Amish – one Ohio Amishman describes technology as “a main concern of 90% of bishops” – who see allowing too much technology as a serious danger to their way of life.

Amish use technology selectively, thus not completely ruling it out.  Some Amish disagree on whether – and how much – use of certain technologies is actually necessary, however.  One sees these disagreements reflected in both individual opinion and across church districts and affiliations, resulting in a variety of practices.  But the idea that the Amish shun technology and live as people did hundreds of years ago is incorrect.

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    16 Comments

    1. IJ

      Related to this issue of technology, how do Amish heat their homes in winter? I know there’s no one right answer. Speaking in general terms, though, what technology do they use?

    2. Hi IJ, thanks for the question, check out the answer here:

      https://amishamerica.com/how-do-amish-heat-their-homes/

    3. IJ

      Thanks! Just what I was looking for.

    4. AwesomeSause

      PEANUTS

      Hi! We r doin a S.S. fair on Amish people! thx 4 the help!!

    5. jody schnaack

      where can i find a wringer washing machine?

      i need a wringer washer, hopefully not too pricey! can be used if usable.

      thank you in ADVANCE FOR ANY HELP YOU CAN GIVE.

      JODY SCHNAACK

    6. E

      Recharge batteris

      I know that Amish use batteries in many devices, but how do they recharge them?
      Thanks

    7. Dody

      Can the Amish use solar power to power their homes, since it runs on batteries?

    8. LarMar

      Highway Safety

      The old-order Amish that don’t allow reflective tape, triangle, or lights should not be allowed on the roads. The only protection for old order Amish buggies are tiny kerosene lamps with a red lens, and it cannot be seen for more than 100 feet away.

      Scripture puts loving thy neighbor very high up on the list priorities for living a good Christian life. One only has to drive on the hilly, curvy, roads of Holmes county once at night during a rain storm to understand how dangerous it is for old order Amish on the roadways.

      Every time I have to drive in Holmes county at night when its raining, I am terrified of hitting one of these buggies, even though I only drive 35-40 mph on a 55 mph road. I would have the nightmare of hurting old order Amish on my conscience for the rest of my life. And for me that seems inconstant with the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Just my two cents.

      1. Jackie

        I also am petrified of hitting a buggy here in Tennessee. The danger the Amish face on the roads makes me shudder. If only the ‘English’ would allow the Amish their own roads.

        1. Amish-only roads

          Sounds nice, but also don’t see how you’d create an Amish-only road system. Widening shoulders and adding buggy lanes is a lot more possible and this you do see in some places.

          1. Anonymous

            In Europe there are separate road systems for buses, cars, and bikes, except for in the oldest parts of the cities. This makes it much safer for anyone not in an automobile, and makes bus rides faster and hassle-free. Only an American would be so dismissive of conveniencing people other than themselves.

            1. Sounds like someone is not terribly fond of Americans 😉

              Describing what is available for buses/cars/bikes as “separate road systems” may be a bit generous…at least based on my experience around Europe over 15 years, what I’ve seen is more hit-and-miss.

              Though what I used in the Netherlands I think would qualify as what you describe, as far as 2-wheeled travel. Great biking there 🙂

            2. CJ

              Anonymous…What you stated is not true. I was born in Europe and know this first hand. I do agree that Europe far surpasses our transportation system, but then Europe is a lot smaller than America. Your dislike of Americans show. That is sad. We are not all dismissive. I don’t know of anyone over here that would not love a better transportation system. However, with our debt and infrastructure problems, the cost would be prohibitive. Hopefully, one day, this will happen.

              I live not far from a Mennonite community. People are very considerate when we see their buggies on the road. You might get a little frustrated sometimes…especially if you are in a hurry, but it is no worse than being stuck behind a slow moving farm vehicle, or stuck at a train crossing. I love seeing the buggies. It reminds me of a much simpler time. Also, to add, all of the above add much to our society.

              Peace

          2. Roy

            Eric, are you the author of this page? If not can you tell me so I can properly cite this information?

    9. Fatima

      Citation

      What is the author of this page? I need it for my citation.

    10. Keln

      Cash

      Some of the Amish run stores and bakeries and the like I have been to accept cash only. However, with the increasing dependency on cards for business transactions, how do the Amish deal with this? There is also a major push for a “cashless society”. Have the Amish considered this? Do they even own bank accounts and how do they manage them without internet?