Feeling queasy over technology

At a talk I gave in Holmes County, at one point one of the Amish entrepreneurs on the 5-man panel expressed concerns over technology.  Paraphrasing, he spoke of worries over “kids having the PSP and the Game Boy and half of the boys having cars”.   Having been to a few Amish homes, I can say this is not far off in some communities, where both handheld games and automobiles among other worldly implements are not uncommon among young people.

In the recent CNNMoney article, entrepreneur Myron Miller shares the following:

“The smarter you get, and the more technology you use for your business, the more impact it has on families,” he says. “For instance, there was a time the farmer would be in the parlor milking cows, and everyone was there, singing songs, and it was work, but it was also family time. Now, an Amish farmer is likely to be milking forty cows, and the children are at school. That’s practical living, and you’ve got to keep up. But at the same time, it takes away from that balance, and you have to ask yourself, ‘How far do you let technology affect your business?'”

Another Ohio businessperson recently shared with me that technology is a top concern of “90% of local bishops”.

Clearly you find the issue of technology is a big one.  One basis of concern is that too much technology will be allowed, leading to too-rapid change and drift.  Amish today deal with a significantly greater amount of technology than their grandparents and even parents did, and the issue of how to put the brakes on, how hard to brake, and furthermore how to balance restricting technology with the demands of business and to a lesser degree, farming, are all important issues.

“Too much”, for that matter is a description with latitude of interpretation and you will find Amish of one affiliation or church having a markedly different view of “too much” than those of another.

Technology is addressed in an impressive new book on the Amish of Holmes County, An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community, by Charles E. Hurst and David L. McConnell.  This book is overdue in the sense that there really hasn’t been a solid book-length academic treatment of this community, the largest in the world.

I’m not quite halfway through An Amish Paradox but it is a compelling read and I’m much enjoying it.  The authors examine the issue of diversity in impressive depth.  On technology they have much to say as well.  They also examine adolescent “running around”, aka Rumspringa, and address differences between the four major affiliations in Holmes County–the Old Order, New Order, Andy Weaver, and Swartzentruber Amish.  They even delve into the smaller affiliations which have sprung from these groups, such as the New Order Christian Fellowship or the Mose Miller Swartzentruber group.

This weekend I will be in Holmes County.  On Saturday from 9am til 1pm I will be doing a book signing for Success Made Simple at the Gospel Book Store in the German Village Market in Berlin. I will have the honor of being paired with Professors Hurst and McConnell, who will be doing a simultaneous signing of An Amish Paradox.  I am looking forward to meeting them in person, and if you happen to be in the area I hope you’ll drop by to say hello!

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    1. OldKat


      The more I look at the way the Amish and other Plain communities examine technology for its positive or negative impact on their culture before adopting whole hog, the more I am convinced they are on to something. We use masive amounts of technology to accomplish our work at my place of employment, but I can remember a time when virtually everything we did was a manual process. Though I can say we do far more with far less than we did 25 or 30 years ago I am not sure we do things any better, or maybe even as well. However, the impact on me is that I am almost burned out from technology overload. When I am away from work the LAST things I want intruding on my life are cell phones, computers, the internet, black berries, ipods, etc. We are not allowed to use Face Book, Tweeter or whatever at work and I certainly have no desire to see them intrude on my personal life. More and more I realize that I am most content when I am doing simple tasks around a farm that I lease, or driving my work mares. I can’t help but think; “Maybe the Amish are on to something … simple may be better afterall”.

      BTW: I read your book a about three weeks ago or so and enjoyed every word of it. Great job!


    2. Rich Stevick

      So, the role of technology among the Amish will continue to be dicey and thorny with more than a few casualties along the way. My wife and I are currently teaching an Amish cross-cultural studies May-June term at Messiah College, and this is an issue that we grapple with (in fact, our focus in class this afternoon). Our students have a unique opportunity and sometimes surprising reactions from their vantage point of their Amish home stays with families in Lancaster County and then Holmes County. A number of class members subscribe to Amish America, and as the course unfolds, I will encourage them to enter the discussion with their insights and experiences. Have a fine time at your book signing, Erik, and give greetings to Chuck and David. We use their book as a required text in the class. Rich

    3. Although I am using the computer every day,or most days, I am trying to limit my time. I found one hour wasn’t quite enough, two hours too much! My public ministry at this time is through the internet, so I want to do that work for the Lord,but I am finding that in many households, the personal sized technologies – laptops, cell phones, electronic games – are taking away from family time, personal time, and for other ministers, the computer is their main work tool – not the Bible! Our bishops need to address this, too.

    4. Marilyn

      Sure wish I could be there for the signing and meet in person.

    5. Magdalena looks like you are trying to address the same issue and find a balance. What I’ve found lately as I’ve been doing some traveling is that “road days” are really a chance to clear the head!

      Marilyn–I appreciate it, would love it too!

    6. Amish cell phone use-business hours

      OldKat–very thoughtful–on the one hand tech often lets us do much more with less, as you point out, but I will agree that you can let the “noise” of social media, cell phones, email and the like get too loud if you don’t keep an eye on it–which I’ve found from personal experience can be tough. I think it’s about sticking to boundaries, but when the computer, for example, becomes everything from a means of communication to a tool for work to a source of communication, you seem to be constantly connected and it can be difficult not to skip over to email or Facebook (or as I’ve been finding lately, Amazon to check book sales!) or whatever and check if anyone’s checked in. At least the temptation is there and it’s just a click or two away.

      An Amish business owner I know does use a cell phone, but keeps it off outside of business hours. I think it comes down to discipline, which can be harder to enforce upon yourself when social life, work and entertainment all come from one machine.

      And in the workplace, as you say more can be done with less, but you also wonder about the quality sometimes.

      And: thanks for reading my book, it is always so nice to hear. I am glad you enjoyed it, comments like that really make me feel the time put in was worthwhile.

    7. sadie

      my world was rocked this morning at a community yard sale when i saw nebraska amish women who were holding toy jeeps, cars and one little girl who bought a very English looking doll. of all the amish, the nebraskas are the most conservative, so you have to wonder about the drift occuring even in this community.

    8. Monica

      I love that book store. Wish I could come and get my book signed! One thing I’ve always wanted to ask ministers, particularly in Holmes which does seem to be very permissive on the technology front, is why are you not addressing it? If it is such a concern, why not start discussing it and look to (dare I say?) start setting standards on issues of ownership and use? Yes, I know it is a complicated issue that could divide churches, and that there would be heavy lobbying by some people to keep certain technologies and discard others. But it might be better to draw a line in the sand rather than live in fear of what else technological reliance will lead to, such as the use of electricity. (Disclaimer: This is a theoretical argument, and not a personal one. I like electricity and computers!)

      But it seems so discongruent to say that something concerns you, and yet allow it by simply not declaring a stance on it.

    9. Having grown up in the Amish/Mennonite world I found I had an unhealthy fascination with TV and all technology when I finally was old enough to make my own choices. However, over the years I have come to see technology as simply a great tool – not a magnet from which there is no escape. Yes, I do use Twitter, FaceBook and my iPhone but I find that I can get more done efficiently now and have more free time for family and friends.

    10. Ann Whitaker

      For all of us, non-Amish and Amish alike, the quest seem to be for the elusive balance in life. I’m a user of technology, too, but accutely aware that for some, it “takes away” relationships i.e. if I’m on FB with friends, my family is often with me! Balance–balance! I’ve often experienced a group of young people in a room together, each on a cell phone talking to someone NOT present, and completely ignoring one another! It’s not an either/or , but perhaps a both/and.

      Erik, I’m donating a copy of your book to my local library! Thanks for a very informative book.

    11. Ann Whitaker

      That should read–my family is often with OUT me!

    12. OldKat

      Well said the, Ann Whitaker, regardless of which version I read!

    13. jude winrow

      The way the Amish live seems a calmer way of life,with families being a priority.I see people sitting with visitors ignoring everyone around them,playing their games either on an x box or mobile phone. People are loosing the art of comunication and in turn,forgetting how to socialise,that brings a new set of problems.

    14. Thank you Ann, and I appreciate you doing that for the library! And yes, I agree on balance-balance. Though I think Dan is right to acknowledge the immense benefits it can bring.

      And I’m glad you corrected the Facebook comment though I found the idea of “Facebooking with family” pretty amusing!

    15. Rich thanks for the comments and for encouraging your students to visit Amish America. The signing went great and I did give your greetings to Chuck and David. We had a very nice time, and it was nice to see some familiar faces from “blog-world” and “real” world both! Am always happy when those two merge.

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