The Amish and Technology — What?!

When I read the schedule of the Digital Ethics Symposium, I was quite intrigued to read that there would be a talk about Amish people and their use (or non-use) of technology.  Lindsay Ems, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, presented “Approached to Amish technology use: The body as an optional, ideal communication medium.”  I’ve always thought of the Amish as a weird section of non-conforming society of the United States, but have always had a fascination with their way of life.  They are a conservative religious group that live modest, “old” lifestyles.  They lead their lives off of biblical teachings, and believe that community is the most important thing because an individual cannot live a godly life by themselves.  I was pretty shocked to learn that Amish populations are growing, doubling about 18 to 20 years.  While I’ve always thought that Amish completely refuse the use of modern technologies, Ems quickly explained otherwise.

Lindsay Ems stated that the principle guide around Amish technology use is that they want to control their technology, not have technology control them.  Ems conducted many interviews with different Amish leaders, business owners, and farmers to find out her data.  Some Amish people use iPhones, social media, online shopping, just as long as their new media use does not tear apart their families.  They believe that the Body is the optional, ideal communication medium because nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation.  One of the quotes Ems showed to the room was “Can you feel love through a text?  No, you can’t.  With technology you can communicate and connect with others but there’s no life in it.”  I think that is something all of us can understand and agree with (especially in reflection of our New Media Diet projects).

After hearing Ems speak at the Digital Ethics Symposium last Friday, I really do feel respect and a type of jealously towards the Amish people.  I am not a believer, most days I consider myself Atheist, other days I feel more Agnostic, but I really do admire and appreciate what this conservative Christian group is doing, in terms of their beliefs of the importance of connection. Another quote that Ems cited was when one make spoke about the Amish’s connection to the soil.  He said, “The soil is a part of you,” which at first sounds odd, but with further explanation kind of makes me want to move to a farm.  Ems explained him further, saying that the Amish people are so connected to the soil because they harvest all their own food, and the meats they eat are the animals they raised, and everything we put into the Earth and have the Earth return back is connected and a huge part of us.  I might not be explain that as eloquently as Ems did, but you should be able to get the gist.  My favorite thing that I got from Ems’ talk was one of the final quotes she told us, which was in response to asking an Amish leader what the best way to raise the young to have a healthy relationship with new technology.  His response was, “Your talk talks and your walk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.”

Translation: Your actions speak louder than words.

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