Technology might be one of the least-understood things about the Amish. On first glance, how the Amish use technology makes little sense.
“Why can they use flashlights and batteries if public power is not OK?”
“Why is it fine to ride in cars but not own or drive one?”
“And what about telephones? I see Amish using phones in those little shacks by the side of the road–or even cell phones.”
This leads to people calling the Amish hypocrites, or worse.
But it’s important to understand a few things. First, the Amish don’t think technology is evil. They just have concerns of what uncontrolled use of technology can lead to. It’s kind of like any tool. You can use the internet for good or bad purposes. You can even use a gun for good (to provide food for your family) or bad purposes (to kill another person).
Second, Amish make decisions about technology at a local level, the church district. These means there are differences in different churches. There are over 2,000 individual Amish congregations, and therefore many different ways of being Amish.
Third, Amish use of technology can and does change over time. A few groups are extremely slow to change, but most Amish are not as rigid. Technology acceptance will change due to reasons like economics. Examples include mechanical milkers on the farm, or allowing covered buggies in places where once only open buggies were permitted. If a change brings some tangible benefit, and is not viewed as a threat to family or church, it has a better chance to be accepted.
Here are three more things you might not know about the Amish and technology:
- They use some modern, sometimes even cutting-edge technologies. Solar panels, high-tech birding binoculars, and fancy recumbent bikes are just a few examples. Again, what’s okay in one church may not be in another.
- There can be a big difference in what technologies are accepted in different groups. In the most conservative churches, there is no running water in the homes, and if nature calls, you need to head outdoors to the outhouse. Without readily available hot water, bathing is less common. Other Amish would find this a hard way to live. In other communities, Amish drive tractors almost like cars. Most Amish feel that is going too far. If they accept the tractor, most restrict it to using the engine for its power and keeping it out of the fields. There are countless other examples. Doing this or that doesn’t necessarily make you “more Amish,” just different.
- The Amish innovate and adapt technology to fit their church’s rules (Ordnung). This is why you’ll see a team of horses lugging mechanical farm equipment through the fields. Or propane-powered refrigerators in Amish kitchens. Or pneumatic ceiling fans in Amish stores. Or the laundry spinner for wringing water out of clothing for a faster dry. Amish technicians and “engineers” are creative, skilled, and adept at coming up with solutions that are acceptable to the church–respecting agreed-upon regulations while accomplishing necessary tasks, and maybe even making life a little easier in the process.
What technologies have you been surprised to see among the Amish?
Erik Wesner writes about the Amish in print and online. His first book, Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive was based on 60 interviews Erik conducted with Amish business owners, as well as his own experiences living and working in Amish communities from Pennsylvania to Iowa. He has contributed to Amish-themed articles featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and other print media. He also has served as a consultant for numerous authors of Amish fiction and non-fiction and writes the Amish America blog. His upcoming book is called 50 Fascinating Amish Facts.
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