The Amish are kind of a mysterious bunch. Those of us from the Midwest—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana—have probably seen them at local farmers markets selling farm goods or crafts, or if we’re lucky enough live among them and interact with them daily. For those of us who have interacted with them, they commonly meet the expectations that we English paint for them based on stereotypes. For centuries the Amish have adhered to a somewhat strict dress code and lifestyle, making them easily identifiable to outsiders. But how much do we really know about the way they live from day to day?
If anything the Amish have become more identifiable with the rise of the technology in the past decade. Their seeming rejection of our developing technology and forms of communication isolates them even more from their modern neighbors. But what many of us modern neighbors do not realize is that several of the Amish have been pushed into using these technologies. Due to the competition of English who utilize up-and-coming technologies, many of the Amish have resigned to parking the plow and trading it in for jobs in construction, tourism etc. Though they have maintained their outward identifiable appearance, especially the more liberal communities have begun to carefully comb through developing technologies to evaluate what can be helpful to them and what distracts them from their purpose for being here on earth. According to a segment on NPR about the Amish and technology, “they struggle to find a balance between this push of technology and the pull of their traditions.”
Some of their traditions have been working for them for years and really have no need to be replaced. For example, Saloma Furlong, an ex-Amish turned author, writes on her blog about circle letters, which she calls, “The Amish Reply All.” In this tradition the author of the letter includes a list of everyone to which he or she desires the letter sent, and each following recipient includes their response and sends it along until the last person on the list has received the letter, at which point it is returned to the sender. This may seem complicated to us technology users, but the Amish see no need to replace traditions like this one. What occurs when an Amish person feels he or she needs technology for their business is an intense evaluation of how that technology could hinder them in the way they choose to live their lives.
The Amish believe that their time on Earth is a part of their journey on the way to heaven. Because of this they feel that too much connection (i.e. to the internet, to the electrical grid, to the modern world) will hold them here and only complicate their journey. So while some things like solar powered calculators are welcome to their newfound need in business, larger solar panels that generate enough energy to run televisions and computers are not a welcome addition—especially to the home.
In Amish businesses the amount of technology can be a little more relaxed depending on the severity of the rules of the community, but for the most part technology must directly help the family provide for itself and should not distract from immediate connections in the community. I agree with the NPR piece insofar as it encourages modern society to take this lesson from the Amish: We should use technology for the purpose of connection with those we love, and for academic purpose but we should not let it become a distraction from the more important and beautiful things in life.
Here is a video that provides more information about how the Amish live.