Technology

Many outsiders mistakenly think that the Amish reject technology. It is more accurate to say that they use technology selectively. Televisions, radios, and personal computers are rejected outright, but other types of technology are used selectively or modified to fit Amish purposes. Amish mechanics also build new machines to accommodate their cultural guidelines. Moreover, the Amish readily buy much modern technology, such as gas grills, shop tools, camping equipment, and some farm equipment.

The Amish do not consider technology evil in itself but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society. Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture. By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base.

Most Amish groups forbid using electricity from public utility lines. Electricity from batteries is more local, controllable, and independent from the outside world. In some settlements, for example, Amish use batteries to power lights on buggies, calculators, fans, flashlights, cash registers, copy machines, and typewriters. Solar energy is sometimes used to charge batteries, operate electric fences, and power household appliances.

Amish use of technology often perplexes outsiders. Why would God frown on a telephone? What sense does it make to keep a tractor at the barn but not take it to the field? Is it not inconsistent, if not outright hypocritical, to hire non-Amish drivers but refuse to own cars? And what could be the difference between 12-volt electricity from batteries and 110-volt current from public utility lines? These distinctions may look silly to an outsider, but within the context of Amish history they are important cultural adaptations that have helped to slow the pace of social change and keep worldliness at bay.

The Amish seek to master technology rather than become its slave. Like few other communities, they have shown the tenacity to tackle the powerful forces of technology in order to preserve their traditional way of life.

 

Additional information

  • See chapter 17, "Technology," in Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, The Amish. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).
  • See chapter 8, “The Riddles of Technology,” and chapter 9, “Harnessing the Power of Progress,” in Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
  • See chapter 7, “Taming the Power of Technology,” in Donald B. Kraybill and Steven M. Nolt, Amish Enterprise; From Plows to Profits, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).
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