In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling
A young woman, wearing a traditional full-length Amish dress and white bonnet, stepped away from a farmers market, opened her palm and revealed a smartphone. She began to scroll through screens, seemingly oblivious to the activity around her.
Not far away, a man in his late 60s with a silvery beard, wide-brimmed straw hat and suspenders adjusted the settings on a computer-driven crosscut saw. He was soon cutting pieces for gazebos that are sold online and delivered around the country.
The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example.
But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.
New technology has created fresh opportunities for prosperity among the Amish, just as it has for people in the rest of the world. A contractor can call a customer from a job site. A store owner’s software can make quick work of payroll and inventory tasks. A bakery can take credit cards.
But for people bound by a separation from much of the outside world, new tech devices have brought fears about the consequence of internet access. There are worries about pornography; about whether social networks will lead sons and daughters to date non-Amish friends; and about connecting to a world of seemingly limitless possibilities.
“Amish life is about recognizing the value of agreed-upon limits,” said Erik Wesner, an author who runs a blog, Amish America, “and the spirit of the internet cuts against the idea of limits.”
John, who works a computerized saw at Amish Country Gazebos near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, likened it to the prohibition on automobiles.
“Not using cars is a way of keeping us together,” he said. (Like most of the people interviewed for this article, he declined to give his surname, out of an Amish sense of humility; many refrained from having their faces photographed for the same reason.)
“There’s always a concern about what would lead our young folk out of the church and into the world,” John added.
The internet also threatens another Amish bonding agent: For a society in which formal education ends after eighth grade, youngsters learn a trade or craft alongside a relative or other member of the community.