Are the Amish right about new technology?

From our ever popular series Questions in the Guardian We Can Answer

Except, as Kevin Kelly points out in his book What Technology Wants, the Amish have never been unequivocal shunners of modernity. “Amish lives are anything but anti-technological,” he writes. Visiting Amish communities, he found battery-powered radios, computer-controlled milling machines, solar panels, chemical fertilisers and GM crops. What distinguishes the Amish stance toward any given invention isn’t that they reject it outright; it’s that they start by assuming they don’t want or need it, then adopt it only if they decide it’s in line with their values.

Until you’ve used it you don’t know, do you?

28 thoughts on “No”

  1. Guardian scum spew horseshit . They don’t walk behind horses collecting it.

    That sort of thing is to be left to the massively impoverished proles.

  2. I assume this story was written on parchment with a quill pen, and given to a horseman to deliver to the ‘Guardian’ offices for publication?

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    I think there are better questions we could ask but that will never appear in the Guardian.

    Like, for instance, are the Amish right about the position of women?

  4. “it’s that they start by assuming they don’t want or need it, then adopt it only if they decide it’s in line with their values.”

    See “the left”, esp. re. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, tax avoidance, air travel, private education, etc.

  5. I think there’s something to be said for the Amish approach. They don’t have, for example, phones and TVs in the house, because it disrupts family life. It’s like a bigger version of families that don’t let kids take phones out to restaurants.

    They’re OK. Not a lifestyle I want, but if that’s what they want, fine by me.

  6. I don’t do telly, nor internet in front of kids. The kids have telly twice a week for half an hour.

    The Amish do have a point- how are you ever going to actually think if all this noise going on all the time

  7. Bloke in North Dorset

    The article makes a fair point and unusually for the Guardian doesn’t insist that we live our lives the way they dictate.

    I was rather surprised about that as this was my first thought when I read Tim’s quote:

    To the best of my knowledge the Amish don’t spend their lives screeching at the rest of that we should lead our lives the way they think we should. They’re happy to let us get on with our lives and don’t expect us to interfere in theirs and we have no right to, beyond the harm principle.

  8. So the Amish piggy back on the rest of the world’s technology and adopt stuff they like later. Got that.

    Sounds exactly like me though – I’ve learned never to be an early adopter.

  9. Odd to see the Graun channelling the Amish. Bearing their embracing self reliance, independence, consent, morality … Their whiteness. Nearest thing in existence to a working libertarian community.
    Very odd.

  10. it’s that they start by assuming they don’t want or need it, then adopt it only if they decide it’s in line with their values.

    Though the typical Guardian attitude is that you are allowed to adopt it if it is in line with their values.

  11. “Until you’ve used it you don’t know, do you?”

    It is possible to assess and choose / reject a technology without using it. I already know that things like Amazon’s Alexa are not going to make it into my house.

  12. PJF – and I will get Alexa at some point and have it in my house. I accept the technology with the use of it.
    Some stuff works great, some stuff I won’t bother with again – but as always the only way I can find out is by using it myself.

  13. Martin,

    Those things are odd to me. If you own an Android phone, you already have the same functions. The extra saving of not pushing a button to then speak doesn’t seem worth it for the extra clutter of another device.

  14. “i’m not going to argue that we should adopt Amish values, which are largely illiberal, let alone copy their system for determining which technologies are allowed, which essentially means doing whatever the bishops decide.”

    Yes Oliver good point, that’s enough for me. Yes i know there’s a but, of course there is, and it’s wrapped up with Amish logic to appeal to those not so much addicted to tech but to lifestyle gurus. And the end result of this is .. delete some apps you don’t use. Well done sir word count achieved, thank you for your effort if not your contribution.

  15. What distinguishes the Amish stance toward any given invention isn’t that they reject it outright; it’s that they start by assuming they don’t want or need it, then adopt it only if they decide it’s in line with their values.

    That is pure, unadulterated bullshit. All this shows is that Burkeman doesn’t know anything about the Amish, let alone what they think about technology. Church teachings and doctrine drive the Amish response to technology; new technology is often eagerly sought out and adopted when it does not come into conflict with doctrine. And doctrine revolves around the distinction between convenience and necessity.

    I spent a summer working in a machine shop with a bunch of Amish men. They were excellent machinists, mechanically inclined, and would be driven to and from the shop by a non-Amish employee (who was paid by the owner to do so). Most of those Amish men also farmed, and while they wouldn’t drive a car, they all owned and operated gas powered tractors.

  16. @DtP

    Fascinating contribution, thanks.

    Had to read this today for work:

    https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/what-shoppers-really-want-from-personalized-marketing

    60 consumers filled in diaries allowing McKinsey to track their brand interactions and purchases. Had my head in my hands by the end of it. After reading:

    Hayley B. Age 31. Illinois.

    Last week, I got an email about Starbucks’ “Bonus Star Challenge”: If you buy 3 items in a week, you get a bonus 150 stars – which is a free drink or item in the store. The day before the challenge ended, when I was near my local Starbucks, I got an alert on my phone from the app. It said I only needed one more item to get the bonus. Since I had a few extra minutes, I swung by and got a latte – and got my bonus! I hadn’t been thinking about how I was doing in the bonus challenge, so having the notification pop up was really helpful – and fun!

    … is there anybody who isn’t a wee bit creeped out and left wondering whether the Amish got it right after all?

    Firms harvesting our personal info and even our location data. Using “gamification” to not just grab our attention playfully, but to reprogram our neural pathways and basically take control of our brains. (I read some pretty stark things about how deep this goes but but have lost the URLs.) Mobile devices that we, and our kids, take everywhere and allow to change how we interact with people and the world around us, and yet in many ways seem to be messing us up.

    Okay, alarmist maybe, but … just because something is a technological advance, doesn’t make it a human advance. Not all of the benefits of new technology that I use are going to me. In many cases the benefits are going to some mega-corporation that wants to use them against my interests, whether it’s to make me spend more money or reveal more advertiser-friendly information or just to spend more screentime on their product when I could be having a happier, healthier realtime with friends or family or the wilderness.

    I know that a bit of re-evaluation would do my life some favours.

  17. Bloke in Costa Rica

    MBE: you don’t have to do any of those things. You have the choice not to. What sign these things have when they’re added to your personal utility function is completely up to you. People who allow themselves to be harvested like this are fair game.

    I’m about as technically adept as anyone I know. I’m up-to-date with almost all computer-based technologies, from front end to back end and through to DevOps. I am an enthusiastic sonsumer of technology. But I consciously avoid certain aspects of it. I eschew social media almost entirely (I’m not on Twitter and I log into Facebook about every three months to clear the backlog of notifications.) I don’t install apps I am not 100% sure are going to be unobtrusive. I winnow the ones I do use: if I realise it’s superfluous, it’s canned. I’d no more install a Starbucks app on my phone than I’d get my forehead tattooed with their logo.

  18. BiCR

    “MBE: you don’t have to do any of those things. You have the choice not to. ”

    In fact, I think the core of my objection is that personal choice is eroded. You can choose to check your smartphone no more than ten times per day, for example, but features on it have been designed to brain-train you to keep checking it constantly and feel anxious if you are unable to. There is such a thing as will-power, but you have let something into your life that has been designed to sap it. Perhaps you’re no longer making rational choices. (Though maybe, in terms of utility functions, there’s something like the “rational addiction” model there is for fags/drugs. While the economics of such a model may be sound, I still regard addictive harmful substances like tobacco as a threat to my freedom because of the risk of becoming hooked on it.)

  19. @MyBurningEars, November 4, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    Had my head in my hands by the end of it. After reading:

    If you buy 3 items in a week, you get a bonus 150 stars – which is a free drink or item in the store. I got an alert on my phone from the app. It said I only needed one more item to get the bonus. Since I had a few extra minutes, I swung by and got a latte – and got my bonus!

    My head in my hands too.

    Hayley B buys a coffee she didn’t want to receive a free coffee – before voucher expiry date – she might also not want.

    No doubt she moans she can’t afford rent/purchase of a home.

  20. @Pcar

    Yup, I loved the irony of it. Except she did get something else out of – the feeling that she had “won” something from the coffee chain. I think she might benefit from having a rethink about who here was really winning, and who was merely feeling like they were winning…

  21. What goes…

    Clip, Clop, Clip, Clop, Clip, Clop BANG BANG BANG, Clippity, Clop, Clippity, Clop, Clippity, Clop?

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