Amish methods

psychology, technology

Read an interesting article about the Amish. It shows with a few examples how these people deal with the discovery of new technologies. They are well known for their conservatism; you could say it’s what they are all about: keeping things as there were. They treat their social fabric, customs, habits, interactions, use of technologies, as something that should be actively managed. Once ‘holding the line’ is quoted as something that comes up a lot: and that, at least to certain subgroups of the Amish, the line is accepted as moving, it is also accepted that the line needs to be drawn. Drawn between man and the world, their group and the rest of us.

The article is about how technology is used, or not, which is interesting: whether to use a technology is studied not so much based on principles (although the no-electricity stance seems quite principles to me), but on it’s effect: phones are OK away from the house, such that a call becomes something one does with intent and consideration, which in turns supports the community as it is (phone calls make certain things easier, such as doing business, or arranging a doctor, speaking to far-away family). Browsing mindlessly on a smartphone in bed is not regarded as an improvement of their society; instead one would be either sleeping, reading or conversing with others.

That sounds like a pretty good idea! In fact, reading this I realized I have been treating tech in a similar way. Although some would say I’m an early adopter, I have always been focused on utility: a had a PDA before anyway had ever seen one because I thought that keeping my agenda digital would work much better for me than paper (I have atrocious handwriting and a Palm PDA is much lighter and smaller than a paper school agenda). I had a mobile phone very late (2007 or so?), because I knew that I didn’t really like calling, I had rarely reason to call myself, and I certainly did not like the prospect of people calling me! Once Palm Treos became affordable second hand, did I buy one. Soon, the smartphone came into existence, I for a long time I stuck to models and operating systems (Symbian, Windows Phone) that enabled particular tasks that I cared about, and did them extremely well (email for instance, was horrible on early Android, everything was horrible on early Android in fact, music idem). Since texts were expensive here at the time, Whatsapp seemed like a good idea (I can ignore text messages until I have time and desire to read what people are saying). Once someone put me in a group, and in the next 24 hours I got inundated with messages, I left the group and left Whatsapp a few years later (also because I don’t want to use Big Tech software). I use Signal now, and to me the fact that many people are not using it is a feature. Fortunately, all those that I want to talk to do have it, it looks like Signal is becoming a major option in the Netherlands.

So, I guess I manage my use of technology not entirely different as the Amish in the article do. It’s now academically shown that the magnitude of crap available to us over the internet is bad for our health, and bad for our society, a conclusion that the Amish (and I) seem to have reached by a different approach. It’s not hard to find people documenting their social media detox and the positive effects on their mental health, not to mention the amount of time that’s wasted. I won’t say I don’t spend quite some time on my phone, but it’s zero time on Big Tech social media, and 99% on interesting articles and discussions.

One tiny comment on the article: it would be improved by having at least one paragraph on the downside of the (literally) religeous focus on the community: obviously not only tech has an influence there, and many recent social developments are extremely good for the individual that does not fit in an antiquated, and perhaps largely constructed view of the past. It is briefly mentioned, without comment or context, that women can’t drive anywhere. It’s not hard to see how that can easily lead to oppression and a lack of personal development. It raises the question: how can we actively or consciously manage our lives and minds without having the downsides of a particular sect’s worldview?