The Amish & Technology: Why They Restrict It

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

Many people believe the Amish reject all or most modern conveniences. Practices vary among groups, but many Amish do, in fact, use a good amount of modern tech. This may include devices like solar panels, diesel generator-powered laundry machines, and in some cases even smartphones.

  1. Technology & Amish Church Rules
  2. Why do Amish reject certain technologies?
  3. Owning Technology vs. Using it
  4. Examples of Amish tech use
  5. Amish Technology FAQ

Technology and Ordnung (Church Rules)

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

Amish people generally see dangers in technologies which provide easy contact with worldly ideas and values (television, automobiles). They also try to avoid those which may break down the family or community, by serving as distractions – or eliminating the need of relying on others in the community.

Amish woman on a bicycle passing a buggy
Amish restrict technology in order to preserve community. Photo: S.I.

Many Amish people 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. This may lead to its being adopted by the church district, and incorporated into the Ordnung.

It’s important to remember that different Amish churches arrive at different conclusions regarding technology. A given church’s rules may vary from another’s. One Amish church can permit more tech than another – and still be considered “Amish”.

A traditional “red line” is permitting the regular driving of motor vehicles. Those churches which have accepted the motor vehicle in this way are no longer considered to be Old Order Amish.

Why do Amish avoid certain technology?

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

The automobile is one example. When a family owns motor vehicles, mobility is 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.

Wooden phone shack next to a cornfield
Amish phone shanty in a Pennsylvania community. The phone is seen as both a useful tool and a potential threat – and even moreso the smartphone. Most Amish phone shanties have a dedicated line, rather than a pay phone as in this example.

However, Amish acknowledge that the car has real benefits. Most Amish people see 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” (the Amish term for “non-Amish” person) employee who drives him on business.

In some sense it’s about maintaining a balance between accessing the benefits of a given technology – while limiting the downside – negative affects on a family or community which may come when a tech is freely accepted and overused.

Owning technology vs. Using it

The Amish also draw a line when it comes to owning a technology, versus 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 saying 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 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 outside of horse-and-buggy range.

Amish family unloading from a van outside a simple white home
Amish do not drive motor vehicles, but often hire drivers for longer-distance trips. Photo: Don Burke

The inconvenience and expense of hiring a driver, however, usually discourages frivolous use. With very limited and rare exceptions, all Old Order Amish churches consider personally operating a car to be a step too far. Those churches who do accept the car in this way soon become a different type of church.

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 use electric lighting while running a market stand rented from a non-Amish person.

Amish buggy with flashing top light at dusk
Most Amish accept technologies that make buggy travel safer, including electric lighting and hydraulic brakes.

In recent years, Amish communities 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 and smartphones. These types of phones not only easily infiltrate the home, but typically offer internet access as well, which poses its own dangers.

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. However, some Amish people certainly come into contact with these in the workplace and in other venues.

Amish boy working a field with horse-drawn equipment
Horses and mules restrict the speed of change in Amish society. Image: Don Burke

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.

An old-fashioned cash register in an Amish food store
Technology use in Amish-owned businesses also varies

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. You can see these disagreements reflected in both individual opinion, and across church districts and affiliations. This leads to a variety of “Amish practices”. But the idea that the Amish shun technology and live as people did hundreds of years ago is incorrect.

Common Questions on the Amish & Technology

  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”?

Solar Panel

1. 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.

2. Why do Amish limit technology?

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.

3. Why don’t Amish use electricity?

Amish in fact do use electricity in different forms – they just reject traditional public grid power. 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.

Square sky lights in a store ceiling
Two varieties of lighting are visible in this photo – natural lighting via a skylight, and gas-based lighting (unlit white mantles).

4. Can Amish use 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.

5. Do Amish have smartphones?

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.

6. Do Amish use the internet?

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.

7. Are the Amish hypocrites about technology?

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.

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.

8. 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.

9. Do Amish ever accept new technologies?

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.

10. 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.

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).

Pulley and line shaft power system in a cluttered furniture shop
Different Amish accept different types of technology. Pictured: Pulley and line shaft system powering a variety of machines in a furniture shop belonging to a member of a conservative Amish church. Ellenboro, North Carolina.

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

11. 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.

For further information, see:

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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?