We are in the 22nd year of the 21st century and are inundated with technology: smart phones, smart appliances, voice assistants, internet, video games that look like real life, social media, texts, zoom calls, etc. While many of these technologies have improved our lives, I think we can all agree that as we’ve adopted more technology we’ve also lost something fundamental to being human. Our social connections have changed. We’re rarely just alone with our thoughts. Our attention spans have shortened. Collectively, our anxieties seem to be rising.
We tend to get sucked into new technologies without stopping to consider how our lives will change due to adopting them. Maybe we should be more intentional about our technology use. If so, how should we evaluate what technology to use and those to avoid?
The Amish, known for their shunning of technology, provide an interesting perspective about how to evaluate technology. While most people know that the Amish don’t use most modern technology such as cars or electricity, what is lesser known is why they haven’t adopted most modern technology.
Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine, has long been fascinated with the Amish and has spent a decent amount of time with them. What he found is that when a new technology arrives, the Amish default view is to say “no” to it. (Contrast that with the rest of us who tend to say “yes” by default.) Then, the Amish decide whether to use the new technology based on two criteria: (1) does the technology strengthen my family, and (2) does it strengthen my community?
Viewing Amish technology adoption decisions through the lens of these criteria makes the Amish seem less like Luddites and more like a wise and enlightened community. For example, their decision to limit the use of cars rests on the idea that a buggy let’s you comfortably travel about 15 miles. Limiting travel to that radius ensures a tight community and promotes shopping and buying locally — both things that strengthen their community.
So, the Amish don’t just reject all technology — just those that aren’t positives for their family or community. And they determine what technologies help or hurt via trial and error as explained by Kevin Kelly:
They have Amish early adopters. And these are guys, usually, in any community, who are eager to try new things. And they have to get permission from the bishop. And so the bishop will say, “OK, Ivan, yeah, you can have a cellphone in your truck for work.” And so, for the next year, they watch — his community watches Ivan to see how that affects his family, his community, his work, and if they don’t think that it’s a positive, then he has to give it up. So it’s a community decision.
It’s interesting to evaluate our own use of technology by the Amish criteria. Does Facebook strengthen or damage my family ties? Does having my iPhone with me all the time pinging in my pocket enhance my connections with others in my community or cause harm? Maybe take a bit of time and think through your own use of technology through the lens of the Amish — it will probably be enlightening.