Technology, for better or worse

June 28, 2011
By: Eric Lundin

An Indiana man was arrested June 22 for sending lewd messages to a minor via cell phone. Considering all the recent publicity surrounding former Rep. Anthony Weiner and the photo he broadcast via Twitter, it’s not a big surprise that a man used a phone for such a purpose. However, the story about the Indiana man did come with a big surprise: He is a member of an Amish community.

Long known for their 19th-century ways, the Amish keep themselves fairly isolated from the rest of the world—they don’t have much contact with people outside their communities or technologies that are too modern or fancy.

I have to confess that my knowledge of the Amish is minimal. Until this story broke, all I really knew was that they are mainly engaged in agriculture and they tend to be self-sufficient, growing or making most of what they needed to sustain themselves, generally without electricity. They have some contact with people outside their communities, selling milk, eggs, produce, and whatnot, and buying some of the things they need—tools and seed for farming, cloth for making clothes, and so on.

But that’s not accurate.

According to the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies (Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pa.), farming is no longer the cornerstone of Amish life. “In some communities, fewer than 10 percent of the households receive their primary income from farming. This shift to nonfarm work is the biggest change in Amish society in the last century.” That’s interesting. Amish society is changing, just as the rest of society has changed.

However, unlike mainstream society, which rushed to the cities as farming jobs disappeared, the Amish remain largely rural and, although many have taken factory jobs, continue to do some small-scale farming.

And they don’t necessarily shun all modern conveniences. They look closely at how a technology is likely to affect their society, and decide whether it will work for them. An automobile would make it a little too easy for the up-and-coming generation to get a lot more exposure to the modern world—and leave—so they stick with the horse and buggy. An electric appliance wouldn’t be disruptive like an automobile would, but it would mean reliance on the utility grid, and they try to avoid such entanglements. However, solar power is allowing electricity to make some in-roads in Amish communities these days.

In other words, Amish communities are not stuck in the 19th century. They try to be as self-sufficient as possible, but they adapt.

Let’s get back to the Elizabethtown College Amish studies Web site. “In recent decades, hundreds of Amish-owned shops have sprung up in some communities. The bulk of these small family businesses produce wood products—household and outdoor furniture, gazebos, small barns, and lawn ornaments—though quilt shops, greenhouses, and bakeries have also been very successful.”

I didn’t see metal products in that list. I wonder if the Amish might be a small yet enthusiastic customer base for metal fabricating equipment, specifically manual brakes, tube benders, and pipe benders. Welding might be a problem, unless the Amish don’t mind using oxyfuel gas welding.

It might work, as long as they focus on metalworking and forget about sending illegal text messages.
Eric Lundin

Eric Lundin

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8262