I had always understood the Amish to be a community that chose to live permanently in the technological past. That is, at a certain point in time, the community said “no more” to new technology. From that point forward new technology was rejected out of hand.
However, the Amish relationship to technology is more complicated. The author Kevin Kelly has written about this. The Amish are constantly evolving with respect to technology. Thus, the Amish don’t use cars or bicycles for transportation, but they will use skateboards. They don’t use electricity, but they do use disposable diapers.
So what’s the strategy here? It appears from the outside like a mish-mash. They allow some technology but reject others. How do they decide what technology is okay?
The answer is two-fold. First, they determine whether the technology strengthens the family. The bonds of the family are sacred. Amish parents desire to spend every meal with their children – breakfast, lunch and dinner, until they move out of the house – so any new technology must enhance the strength of the family.
The second criteria is community. Does the new technology strengthen the community? Will it allow people to spend more time with the community or less? This is why the Amish reject cars yet allow for the horse and buggy. It’s not that they are against cars per se. What they reject is a technology that can take someone so far away from their family and their community in one day. A horse is limited to traveling 15 miles per day. Thus, the Amish spend their day in their community among their family and friends. All their meals, shopping, visits and Church are local. It forces them to pay attention and support their local community.
The Amish are intentional about technology. Kevin Kelly puts it this way:
“They’re not rejecting technology. They’re saying: We want technology that serves our purpose.”
Contrast the Amish approach with the way most of us approach technology. Like the Amish, we must evaluate new technology. We are presented with choices. Purchase a smart phone? Enroll in Facebook? Set up a twitter account? Use instant messaging? We treat these as individual choices. How will this technology impact me? How will it enhance my life?
Most of us rushed to buy a smart phone with little or no thought to how it might align with our core purpose in life. Very few of us asked, “how might this device impact my parenting or my relationship with others?”
If we want to preserve and nurture our families, communities and well-being, we must be more considerate when evaluating new technologies. Expand the circle of impact to include our families and communities. We must balance the value of entertainment and communication with our spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
Identify the principles and values that give your life meaning and discriminate against technology that does not serve your core purpose.
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