No electricity? No problem: The surprising, ingenious Amish gadget culture

“Amish tradition disallows electricity, cars, and television. It shuns modern lifestyle, culture, and values. But they aren’t total Luddites — in fact, the Amish community has developed a tech gadget culture all its own,” Justine Sharrock writes for BuzzFeed. “‘In the Amish mind, technology itself is not considered sinful or immoral,’ writes Donald Kraybill in his new addendum to his book The Amish. ‘Like a knife which can cut bread or kill someone, tools can be used to help or to harm, to build up or tear down communities.'”

“So, instead of flat-out rejecting all technology, modern Amish just hack it to fit their needs,” Sharrock writes. “With major technological advancements, from the car to electricity to the telephone, different Amish churches have come up with their own methods of adaptation. Each church community votes on their guidelines and rules, dictated by Amish tradition… Amish prohibit electricity, largely because connecting to the grid literally connects Amish homes to the outside world, through electric wires. So, instead of plugging in, they rely on ‘Amish electricity’: combinations of diesel generators, batteries and car batteries, solar panels, hydraulic pumps, and compressed air pressure to run appliances, pump water, and power electric fences.”

Sharrock writes, “One of the most recent — and most controversial — hacks is the Amish computer. Allen Hoover, an Old Order ‘horse and buggy’ Mennonnite, invented what he calls the ‘Classic Word Processor’ that’s ‘made specifically for the plain people by the plain people.’ …The lack of connectivity was the draw of the Classic. But that was six years ago. Today, it is nearly impossible to run a business without being online… As with the car, phone, and electricity, each Amish community now has to decide whether to accept the web. History suggests a compromise.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Ishmael” for the heads up.]

15 Comments

    1. It’s an interesting little story. It ties into innovation, as well as the importance of figuring out how to make technology fit into your life rather than just blindly accepting each new tech gadget.

      I hope this doesn’t turn into some sort of flame war. I found the article interesting and I applaud MDN for posting something out of the ordinary.

  1. An interesting issue. If they choose cellular, then it is similar to their past decisions about TV shows. Perhaps just text or use the audio response features used for the blind or Siri only. Like in the car, you don’t need to see it or touch it to work with the digital outside world.

  2. When I worked at a hotel we once had a party in town for some sort of Amway-esque convention. One of the guests in that party was an Amish man sporting Oakleys and a Nokia phone. I was very confused by that and this story sheds a little light on the subject.

  3. I’ve lived in the Amish Country of Ohio. As with most everything, there are many “shades” of Amish. Some of them reject anything and everything that has to do with electricity & technology. Some of them will carry cell phones (for business purposes; the Amish are astute businessmen), but charge them at the houses of their non-Amish friends. Some will ride only in horse & buggy setups, some will ride in cars, provided they are simply passengers. As the article states, each congregation will decide for itself what it will and won’t allow. Those who disagree are free to move on to a more or less restrictive congregation, depending on personal views.

    They all value family. They all value God. They all value hard work. There’s something “pure” about it, for lack of a better word, and it can be an enviable lifestyle.

    1. Solar is a great idea and need NOT be on any grid. There are simple solar water heaters I’ve used that are clunky but effective (for a few minutes). And so on.

      I’ve been writing about a culture that considers EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) to be normal occurrences. Therefore, they always have non-electric gear at the ready. It’s extremely interesting to consider non-electric alternatives for energy and energy conveyance.

    2. There are two forms of solar energy collection with which I’m familiar: (1) Photoelectric cells, generating direct electricity (2) Solar heating systems, generating heat that is used to boil water, providing steam power, or merely a hot shower.

      Gradually becoming obvious is the oldest solar energy collection system on the planet: Photosynthesis. Let the plants do all the work then put the plant material to work for you in some way. Humans have been doing this for millennia but oddly forget about it. Photosynthesis is also a terrific method of fixing CO2 out of the atmosphere.

      It’s hilarious to watch people’s faces when I tell them that merely planting a tree is a contribution to cutting back the Green House Effect, aka ‘Global Warming’. They’re also thoroughly confused when i point out that plant material does NOT turn back into CO2 when the plant dies. I have to ask them where they think fossil fuels came from! Then I point out where our oxygen comes from! I don’t know why this isn’t basic elementary school knowledge. (o_0)

      1. Nice touch, knowledge. It is basic elementary school curriculum, but perhaps it does not always make it all the way towards knowledge.
        PS: what happened to Blicky?

  4. The Amish Classic Word Processor with no connectivity, no camera, no third party apps etc reduces the risk of NSA spying and cam/mic hacks etc. It could soon be a big seller. I rate it a strong Buy, given the current trends of invasion of privacy and the Amish lifestyle leading the way out of undesirable connectivity through their ultimate “walled garden” ecosystem of non-connected, independent products.

  5. In other words, a few Amish communities have decided it is morally acceptable to live a lifestyle only one century out of date with the rest of the planet.

    Imagine how healthy, prosperous, and happy the Amish would be if instead of being governed by a select few ultra-conservative men who act in every way like religious extremists living a 1700’s lifestyle (as if their 2013-year-old prophet told them that 1700 years of development was “just right”, and any more technology than that is evil) , they instead took their work ethic and strong community values and embraced modern, but still sustainable, methods. As it is, many Amish colonies have stagnant populations with noticeable genetic problems that come from their insistence on social isolation. Health and happiness are noticeably low in many communities, and the number of teens who flee the arbitrary religious rigidity is not insignificant. They will have to change to survive, like it or not.

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