You have probably heard of the Amish people. Could I be like them? I’m not a farmer, I don’t quilt, and I don’t make (good quality) furniture. I guess by comparison to those stereotypes, I’m not Amish.
But what about technology? You knowâ€”according to the stereotype, the Amish don’t use modern technology. I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t have high-speed Internet service at home, and I don’t have an iPod (or any portable MP3 player). The television I watch at home is a 1973 model. It is 34 years old as I write this. It is not hooked up to the cable. I guess there is a little streak of Amish in meâ€”I don’t have all the latest electronics.
But I love technology and new things too. My old TV set is connected to a converter box so that I can watch the new ATSC digital TV broadcasts on it. I have a VOIP telephone on my desk here at Dordt. And a consequence of my job is that I teach students how to design new electronic gadgets. I’m glad to have these opportunities to play with discover, and use new technologies.
Yet I have some sympathy for the Amish way of life too. On one vacation many years ago I was rafting down the Colorado River with a group of friends. We all agreed to take our watches off, and bring no electronics. For a week we lived unaware of the exact time, the latest news, or the weather forecast. (We did have one portable CB radio along for emergency use only. We never used it.) It was delightful. This experience is one reason why I don’t subscribe (at least not now) to certain technologies. In my life for example, I don’t think a cell phone would help. When I’m out for a walk with my wife for example, I don’t want to receive or make phone calls. When I’m watching TV, I don’t want lots of movies and reruns of Gilligan’s Island. (I’d probably watch them if they were easily available to me!) It’s not that I can’t afford cable TV, it is that I don’t think it would help our family life.
There is an interesting article about Amish attitudes toward technology in the latest issue of “Technology and Society” magazine . One point made in the article is that the stereotypes of Amish life that I’ve mentioned above obscure the intricacies of Amish life. They are not opposed to new technology in principle. They are people who have taken a conscious and not entirely negative attitude toward adopting technology. Because of their strong emphases on humility, equality, simplicity, and community, they find some technologies counter productive and avoid them. They have developed other technologies that enable the type of lifestyles they seek. For just one example, Amish approve of and have contributed to the development of air-powered tools for woodworking.
If you don’t think you can do much about technology and if you doubt that technology has much influence over your lifestyle and even your relationship with Jesus, just look to the Amish people. They make it obvious that by our personal choices we (as a community and as individuals) create and form technology in order to form our culture.
Update: Maybe jerry Scott and Jim Borgman (authors of the Zits cartoon) read this blog. See this cartoon (while it is available).
 J.M. Wetmore, “Amish Technology: Reinforcing Values and Building Community,” Technology and Society Magazine, vol 26 no 2 Summer 2007, IEEE.
Photo courtesy of Stock.XCHNG, http://www.sxc.hu