When I looked through the schedule for the Digital Ethics Symposium I was shocked to find Approaches to Amish technology use: The body as an optional, ideal communication medium. What do Amish people have to do with technology? Lindsay Ems of Indiana University conducted research on how the Amish community handles the pressure of an increasingly digital culture. The discussion was fascinating. Oftentimes, small communities like the Amish are forgotten about when we talk about the impact of technology on the individual. How can an Amish community sustain itself in a world like ours? The speaker before Lindsay, Sara Perry referred to the wild side of the internet as being a “crux of productivity.” If this is true then how could one consider the Amish community to be productive? Lindsay provided some background information about the Amish in order to create some context for her findings. I was surprised to see just how little I actually knew about the Amish. For example, the communities are diverse, each have different ways of handling digitalization. Due to the increasing prices of land, the Amish have struggled finding ways to make a living such as making furniture. Lindsay also said that the Amish community is growing and currently the number is around 282,000. I had no idea of this large scale.
From my limited understanding of Amish traditions, nearly everything modern is forbidden including technology and music. These stereotypes are completely wrong. The Amish use computers in their businesses. The libraries have computers, which members of the community use to check email, and some even have Facebook! Lindsay spoke about Amish teens who have cellphones and send text messages. Apparently, some Amish use smartphones in the same way we do. By far my favorite image is of an Amish man sitting in a buggy programming his GPS, which is also allowed by the community guidelines. As it turns out, the Amish are almost as connected as us, who knew?
The philosophy behind their technology use is what sets the Amish apart. Community is one of the most important factors in their tradition. They recognize that the world around them is increasingly dependent on technology. One of the men in an Amish community said that, “We want to control our technology, not be controlled by it”; with this philosophy in mind, the Amish have allowed technology to become a part of their lives but are not dependent on it. In order for certain technologies to be allowed, they must bring the community together. Television, for example, is still banned because it isolates an individual from their family. Telephones are allowed, but not inside the home, instead they are kept in outhouse-like structures. While some may view the Amish communities’ decision to isolate themselves from mainstream society as strange, my experience during the media diet project has shown me that technology has been both a blessing and a curse. By limiting their exposure to digital culture, the Amish have minimized the detrimental effects technology has on community. I think all of us would be better served if we were more skeptical of “progress,” by emulating the Amish and asking ourselves if our use of technology is bringing us together, and making sure we do not become a tool of tech.
Do you think it is naïve of the Amish to forbid technology like the TV, which can provide helpful info in a time of crisis?
Did you know the stereotypes of the Amish were so erroneous?