It can be easy to look at the Amish and think of all the ways they are out-of-touch with modern society. Some may even consider them anti-technology. But this isn’t exactly accurate.
In one section of his book, What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly writes at length about his experiences with the Amish. And from his description, they are anything but anti-technology. From using disposable diapers to planting GMO crops to operating precision milling equipment, they make use of a wide variety of technologies. What they don’t do is accept any and all technology without exception. Rather, there is a deliberate and thoughtful process about the effects of the technologies they choose, and how each will impact the other things they value.
For instance, they ban car ownership. But it’s not because of the technology used in automobiles, but because of the impact it had on the community. Kelly observes:
“the Amish noticed that drivers would leave the community to go picnicking or sightseeing in other towns, instead of visiting family or the sick on Sundays, or patronizing local shops on Saturday. Therefore the ban on unbridled mobility was intended to make it hard to travel far and to keep energy focused in the local community.”
In this case, the community was of supreme importance, and so technologies that seemed to undermine it would have to go.
In deciding whether to accept or reject a new technologies outright, there is usually some kind of trial run. According to Kelly, someone in the community (usually an ‘alpha geek’) will try out a new technology for a period of time with the permission of the bishops. And then, everyone pays close attention to the effects of the tool or technology. How does it affect the individual? How does it impact the community as a whole? Is it having a positive or negative impact?
In our lives, it can be tempting to adopt whatever technologies come along without giving too much thought to their long-term consequences. And this is an area in which we can learn from the Amish. They start with their values–what they care most about–and then decide whether to adopt a technology in light of its long-term impact.
If we were to follow a similar process, we would no doubt come to very different conclusions about what technologies make sense in our lives. But even so, there’s something to be said for the slow and intentional process the Amish use in making these types of decisions.