Seven Ways I’m “Amish” About Technology

How “Amish” are you when it comes to technology? In “We Should Be More ‘Amish’ About Technology“, columnist Tish Harrison Warren examines how over-use of tech (social media in particular) was harming her family life. And she feels that Amish and others like them can be role models on this:

American society could learn from Anabaptist groups, including the Amish, Mennonites and others. Many of these groups do not, despite popular belief, refuse to use technology. But they are far more discerning than the rest of us about how a given technology will help or hurt their communities. 

An Amish man walks with his three sons while pushing a bike
Image: Jim Halverson

What does that mean? In a nutshell:

If a technology may distance people from one another, weaken a sense of in-person community, generate conflict or harm vulnerable people, they avoid it. These groups remind us that there are higher goods that can be harmed by technology and that these must be defended, even at a cost.

“Newer”, “faster”, “more connected”, “optimized” – these buzzwords – positives in mainstream society – do not always mean “better” when Amish consider technology. They have “higher goods”, as Warren puts it, in mind when they choose to restrict tech.

And of course different Amish groups come to different conclusions on which gadgets and conveniences can actually cause people harm – or invite unwanted influences into the community. 

For some, things like limited use of smartphones (for business purposes), certain battery- or air-powered home appliances, and even sophisticated devices like CNC tooling machines in workshops are considered “okay”.

Two Amish women walk carrying plastic bags at an auction event
Image: Jim Halverson

Others draw their lines at things like indoor plumbing, propane fuel, and glass fronts on buggies. And that’s not necessarily because something like a flush toilet in the home will cause “harm”.

It may be because accepting more worldly, though non-threatening, material items can lead to easier acceptance of potentially threatening ones.

Accepting a bit of change here…makes accepting a bit more there easier, down the line. So the thinking goes.

Multi-colored glass Princess Feather lights on a shelf in an Amish store

That doesn’t mean they never change, however. Even the plainest Amish do. Just much more slowly.

But regardless of how progressive or conservative an Amish group is, it’s fair to say that a skeptical or cautious approach to technology is a characteristic feature of all Amish groups.

And I think that is at the heart of what the writer is suggesting.

How “Amish” Am I About Tech? 7 Ways

Reading Warren’s column made me stop and think about how “Amish” I am when it comes to tech. I came up with seven things that align with Amish ways, in general:

  1. I don’t own a microwave, or a toaster
  2. I don’t own a TV (though obviously I have a computer, and a smartphone…which are basically TVs, plus a whole lot more)
  3. I go long periods without driving a car
  4. I much prefer warmly lit rooms and more “primitive” forms of lighting to the increasingly common ultra-bright illumination all around us
  5. I tend to be a late adopter – or at least a “slow” adopter of new tech (though not with all tech)
  6. When I see things like virtual reality goggles or GPS phone tracking users’ locations, I cringe
  7. If there’s an app for that, I probably don’t want it

So I don’t know where that places me on the “Amish tech” scale. If Apple CEO Tim Cook is a “1” – and a Swartzentruber Amishman is a “10” – then maybe I’m a 3 or a 4?

An Amishman transports a solar panel in the back of a small horse cart on an early spring day
Image: Don Burke

Thinking about this, I realized I do make some of my technology choices consciously. Others result from my ingrained preference for simpler solutions.

I don’t have a church community as a backdrop to my tech use (an important part of the Amish approach). But I generally do think applying some Amish ideas on tech can work. Even without being Amish.

It’s a fun exercise, I thought. And maybe a worthwhile one, especially considering the issues Warren raises in her article.

In her example, she ended up using a workaround to buffer her exposure to social media – though without cutting it out completely. A compromise of sorts (something the Amish do in their own ways as well). 

So how “Amish” are you about technology?

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    1. Valerie

      My Amish ways

      1) I’ve given up owning a car, and rent one from a local person when I need to run errands (which I save up to do about twice a month). This has saved me money, has given a local person some added income, and allowed me to convert my garage into a barn–with many great benefits.
      2) I ride with friends for other outings, which greatly increases my connectedness with others; and chipping in for gas helps them too.
      3) I limit my computer screen time to news/weather, correspondence, research, and work projects.
      4) I limit screen entertainment (e.g. movies) to once a week, and play absolutely NO computer games, which are addictive and keep you from real life.

      1. Nice list! One benefit of carpooling is that time spent with others…I find some of the best conversations I’ve had are while riding with someone.

    2. I've been Programmed

      Recently I was at an Old Order Amish businesss when the owner’s out-of-sight business phone rang. For a second I was confused because it was’t my ringtone. When it kept ringing, and the proprietor ignored it, I said, “If you need to get that, I can wait.” He replied, “No need, they can leave a message.”
      My technological problem is a personal priority problem. I’ve been programmed by my smart phone to respond immediately at its command. (Like Pavolov’s dog, when it heard a bell, it began to salivate.) My priorities are messed up. That’s one thing I can learn from the Amish.
      Don’t let something personal, something significant, in the moment, be interupted by technology. People are more important.

      1. This one clicked with me. Phone notifications were driving me crazy but it took a little while to realize it. I use a combination of turning off a lot of the notifications and using a second phone for some things like reading when I don’t want to be disturbed. We are generally over-notified these days.

      2. David Stear


        I have begun noticing lately that readouts on phones will often label suspected spam callers as “spam”. I have long ago broken the habit of rushing to answer a phone, if it’s important they can leave a message. In this day and age it’s probably not a very good idea, but I have always HATED carrying a phone around with me and will do so only if I remember or “if the spirit moves me”. I’m not a slave to a phone, I do not “text” and apps will always remain a mystery to me. The late Queen Elizabeth hated phones going off/ringing while she was acting in an official capacity, giving an interview, etc. She was once giving an interview with some reporter and his phone began to ring, she said, “you’d better answer that, it might be someone important”.

    3. Kevin Lindsey

      Interesting article and concept to think about. We try to limit our technology, although we do use some. During the summer we use a clothesline instead of a dryer. We try to use our bikes (e-assist) when possible instead of using the car. Incidentally when we were recently in Shipshewana, Indiana we were happy to notice that e-assist bikes were very widely used by the Amish community there. We have a wood burning stove we use occasionally and oil and battery lights for when the power goes out. Three of our clocks are wind up (grandfather, mantel, and cuckoo) so they’re not relying on the grid. Some of this is because we lack be in an 1860’s house. Soon after we moved in many years ago we had a power failure and it bothered me that we were helpless in a house that didn’t even have electricity for half of its life, so we started looking to the Amish for ways to adapt.

      1. Sounds like a nice approach to it. I’ve only once had to rely on my wood-burning heat when the power was out, but boy was it needed as it happened to be the coldest week in years. Some places (cities) do not permit wood-burning in city limits, unfortunately, but not something you probably have to worry about much outside of them.

    4. Al in Ky

      No GPS

      I think I score about a “3” on limited use of technology, and that includes at least 1/2 of a point for never using GPS. (I use a lot of paper maps instead).

      1. There’s something about a paper map that I still enjoy. When I visit a new place with points of interest I like to pick one up rather than only rely on my phone.

        1. David Stear

          Maps vs GPS

          I agree, I dislike and mistrust GPS. I have always liked looking at a map, especially one that includes “points of interest”. A Rand-McNally road atlas is all I need although I don’t make long road trips anymore so the point is moot. I don’t use an ATM either, each time I used one (and I can count on one hand the number of times) it proved to be a frustrating, aggravating experience. I also greatly dislike self-checkouts at grocery stores. All it means to me is that you are paying the store to do the cashier’s job for free, I hate it. I almost never go into a movie theater anymore as movies made today are generally worthless garbage. The few movie theaters I would want to go to are those dating earlier than 1950 and many of those that survive have been repurposed for something else other than movies or even live plays. I prefer looking at old TV reruns on my laptop if I want some form of entertainment. I often end the day before going to bed by watching an old What’s My Line show from the 1950s, especially those with Fred Allen on the panel, or at least one with Dorothy Kilgallen and/or Arlene Francis. I might also watch press conferences of John Kennedy; I never understood them as a kid when my parents watched them, but now a laptop computer (the evil necessity, I suppose) provides this–I almost never watch television. I don’t know where I would place myself on a 1–10 scale, but I’m guessing about a 4 or 5. I do like central air conditioning and heating as well as hot water when I want it. Electricity definitely has its benefits, but one will never see me hunched over a cell phone frantically punching out some text with my thumbs.

    5. Walter Boomsma

      The Question!

      What an interesting question… “How Amish am I when it comes to technology?” The answer might be, “Not as much as I should be!” I am increasingly conscious of how technology impacts my “worldview”–typically in a less than positive way! I have always admired the Amish view and how everything “fits” when one at least attempts to understand their viewpoint. So while I’m (particularly for my age) fairly “tech-oriented,” I try to keep some perspective. I do manage to remember that technology is a tool, not a way of life. My way of life makes it an important tool, but I’m still in charge. The tool came in handy while planning a trip to the Lancaster area, but not so much while making arrangements to visit an Amish friend while there. It has been an interesting comparison!

    6. BH

      We have considered buying a couple different Amish farmhouses. It was an intriguing exercise to imagine living in the houses as-is, without adding “English” standards. Plumbing? I definitely prefer the modern amenities. Air-conditioning? Doable for me to go without but challenging for my hot-natured family members. Electricity? I would prefer it for time-savers like a food processor or blender, but the idea of low natural lights in the evening sounds wonderful. A telephone outside? Probably would make me a much more productive person!

      I think it is very important to remember that so many of our “needs” are actually luxuries. A lot of technology has stolen the real richness of life, like quiet evenings gazing at the stars or catching fireflies, savoring long handwritten letters from friends, taking a wrong turn and discovering new places. I try to recreate those experiences now with my kids, but some things like letters seem practically dead.

    7. Myriam

      I think the main lesson is that they do talk about technology. We have zero discussion about it, it’s considered a given that if we can do it, we will do it. We never ask ourselves, as a society, if we want it, what would be the consequences of it, or when enough is enough. We never *stop* to consider these things. And then it is up to the individual to make choices as much as they can – but with the caveat that oftentimes there is no amternative (some things can now only be done with a computerand internet for example).
      I loved this article! I would say I am a 4? I don’t own a dishwasher, a dryer, a coffeemaker, a toaster or a microwave… We have a family computer and cellphones though. I don’t have social media either. I walk and bike around a lot, but we do have a car.