Living the Amish Way: Seven Essential Amish Values to Enrich Your Life

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The existing studies of technology use among the Amish consist of short accounts, often descriptions of isolated visits to Amish communities, where data are gleaned from a convenience sample of a few interviewees Ashton, ; Ems, ; Kelly, ; Rheingold, ; Murphy, ; Wetmore, In describing Amish philosophies about technologies, Jameson Wetmore says, the Amish believe that technologies reinforce social norms and enable and constrain the ways that people interact with one another.

For these reasons the Amish feel it is important to regulate their use of technology in order to preserve their culture. Popular technology writer, Howard Rheingold, observed a similar sentiment in his investigation of Amish cell phone use in Lancaster County in the s. For them, it is not just how you use the technology, it is what kind of person you become when you use it Rheingold, In his interviews with Amish people, he learned that when deciding whether to adopt a technology, church leaders ask if it will bring the community together or tear it apart. If it brings people together, typically it is accepted.

If not, it is likely to be rejected or limits on its usage will be made to accommodate professional or economic necessity. Thus, technologies like rollerblades, trampolines, motorboats and barbeques are often adopted because they bring families together. Televisions, video games, radios and cars are not because they are seen as distractions from family or community time.

In a brief visit to northern Indiana, Ems found that members of the Amish community were creating socio-technical workarounds to facilitate uses of new technologies while still adhering to Amish values. There are times when technologies are accepted and times when they are not. These decisions often come down to contentious decisions that reflect a desire to abide by and protect religious and cultural rituals tied to a shared heritage, which connect individuals in this group to one another as the environment around them changes. Relying both on historical record and prolonged ethnographic inquiry, Umble explains the changes in social structures and culture that the telephone introduced in many Amish communities during the twentieth century.

According to Umble , among the Amish, there has always been a preference for communication to be practiced through rituals of worship, silence, work and face-to-face visiting that are anchored in the home.

Living the Amish Way : Seven Essential Amish Values to Enrich Your Life -

She found the arrival of the telephone brought new ways of communicating which threatened face-to-face communication and oriented communication away from the home. The telephone, according to Umble, is not merely a neutral instrument. With the telephone, the world was brought to your door, she says.

This was a reality welcomed by some and shunned by others. Today telephones are found in or near many Amish homes and businesses. It is now largely a settled issue that phones must reside in a small shed, outside the home, so as not to disturb family conversation. The ban on phones inside the home persists still today. They also felt personal ownership of the telephone brought about individualism and pride instead of humility — values they felt were counter to their religious doctrine and way of life. The Amish make formal decisions about adopting ICTs or not publicly, communally and democratically within a rigidly structured community of church members Kraybill, In my fieldwork I investigated the work Amish church and business leaders did to develop and enforce the formal rules and informal norms governing new technology adoption.

According to participants these helped members of the Amish community work and live in the modern world, without becoming assimilated into it.

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Among the Amish, such rules and social norms are conventionally developed and enacted at the church community-level. A church community, or district, is concretely defined. It consists of 20 to 30 families who all live in close proximity to one another. Church communities are geographically bounded so that it is possible to travel from home to church by buggy, foot or bicycle. So, when a district grows too big to fit into a home, it splits in two [ 6 ].

If a person is a member of an Amish church, he or she is expected to abide by its rules. According to participants in this study, church rules are intended to keep individuals rooted culturally, spiritually and physically in the local community. Rules are aimed at strengthening local, close-knit networks of social and economic support and encouraging individuals to live simple, peaceful lives in tune with natural rhythms, which they feel are pleasing to God.

As a result, ICT adoption and use is currently on the rise in many Amish communities. Despite recent changes in technology adoption and growing trends to work more closely with local non-Amish patrons and vendors, the Amish still generally resist non-essential engagements with outsiders. This presented real challenges for studying ICT adoption in Amish communities. In the planning stages of this project, I sought the advice of established Amish studies scholars to help overcome this challenge. They often offered warnings like this.

In the field, I learned that the popularity of sensationalized reality television shows, like Amish Mafia , have amplified this resistance, as members of Amish communities reported fearing they would be wrongly quoted or portrayed in the media. Thus, in general, the literature in the field of Amish studies struggles from access problems and making claims about the population on the whole is extremely difficult. These authors have acquired an authenticity through their prolonged engagement with, and embeddedness in an Amish community and Amish studies community.

5 (More) Reasons Why The Amish Fascinate Us

This rich body of research shows that being a pseudo-insider is a distinct advantage for gaining access to the Amish Umble, These scenarios, however, do not characterize my association with the Amish. Based on these characteristics, I could not be less fit for achieving status according to Amish schemas: I am a technology buff, I seek answers to worldly questions, I do not have a husband, children, a job, exceptional homemaking skills, devout belief in God, etc.

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Going into the project, I knew I had to work to overcome the cultural barriers that separated me from those I wanted to interview. Looking back, there were a variety of factors contributing to my success on this front. On a few occasions, I simply happened to be in the right place at the right time. In most instances, though, when potential participants learned about the topical focus of this study, they were quite willing to participate in interviews.

In conducting initial field site visits, I learned that the non- adoption of new communication technologies was a topic of interest to many of Amish business and church leaders. As I began conducting my fieldwork in earnest, I realized that navigating the influx of new media in Amish communities was a source of much debate. Church and business leaders held a variety of strongly held opinions about how and why ICTs should or should not be adopted.

Some anticipated that these could eventually lead to a schism in the church. Those who felt they should not be adopted had a number of reasons for taking this view. Technology, he felt, destroyed the salt. When the salt is gone, preservatives are gone and the meat spoils.

In contrast, many participants highlighted virtues associated with ICTs. A few business leaders reported having Web sites for their businesses. For example, Dennis, the owner of a construction company, told me he had computers, a Web site and smartphones and reported owning but not driving trucks for his business.

He had non-Amish workers, one of whom, his son, drove the trucks and operated the computer. Dennis described multiple vacations he took to Europe, in which he was a passenger on a luxurious trans-Atlantic cruise ship. He and his wife traveled across the Atlantic by boat because flying was against Amish church rules. His wife, he said, also used a smart phone at home to keep in touch with family members who lived far away.

His three sons were co-owners of the business now too. The one who chose not to join the Amish church made it possible for the company to own computers and graphic design software, which he used to create advertisements for the company, among other things. He said he consulted his conscious to ensure he and his employees used technologies in ways that did not conflict with Amish values. From his perspective new technologies enabled him to live the kind of life he wanted and be successful in business.

Simple Living

Often, before agreeing to talk to me, participants wanted to know what motivated me to do this research. In those conversations, I explained that I understood new ICTs were having good and bad influences on human relationships. Too often, though, I felt we only heard about the good influences. I was there to learn about Amish viewpoints because I wanted to understand how placing limits on technology adoption might also empower groups of people. This seemed to strike a chord with many potential participants. I discovered we had a common interest in and passion for understanding how ICTs impacted human happiness and well-being.

This commonality was helpful in breaking down the cultural barriers that separated us. Indeed, principal informant, year-old Sam, told me he worked his whole life to develop a business that could provide for his workers material needs, social comfort, and spiritual health. In his furniture-making workshop where 45 people were employed, Sam felt his financial success was only one part of the type of success he sought to achieve.

It was important to him that his workers had input in, and a sense of ownership over the business. The type of success he strived for involved motivating employees to see they shared a broader purpose that guided and inspired their daily work. For Sam and his employees, their work was an important compartment of life wherein religious values and spirituality were seen as inextricable from everyday work for material gain. To create such an environment, among other things, Sam reported curating the sounds in the workshop.

He did not allow music or topics of discussion that his Amish employees might find offensive or counter to their shared values. Often he set the tone of important meetings by starting with a prayer. This, he felt, reminded workers of their common purpose and goals and made meetings more productive. Sam also enforced specific rules about cell phone use at work. Sam said, upon implementation of this rule, he saw his employees become more relaxed and happier.

In my conversations with Sam, I learned he spent years thinking about the role that technologies like radios and cell phones played in his social and spiritual well-being. He said he felt so strongly about this that he started his own business specifically to create a workplace where such a culture existed.

A Brief History of the Amish and their Religious Lifestyle

Many other participants in this study reported having similar aims. For them, visions of success that were too heavily focused on finances and did not consider other important goals, like caring for the spiritual, social and mental well-being of workers, were too myopic. As a result of the deeply held philosophical values and depth of thought already given to negotiating new technologies in Amish daily life, participants seemed open to providing answers to questions about the role ICTs played in their lives.

While the fact that this topic was important to participants may have helped overcome barriers to access, additional techniques were also used to enroll and maintain connection with participants who were generally leery of communication with outsiders. Many small methodological decisions were made in the planning stages of this project, which helped overcome barriers to access and make the most of opportunities that emerged organically in the field. The data collection approach used was specifically aimed at finding answers to the three research questions outlined above.

Amish ministers and business owners were targeted via a snowball sampling method because they are key opinion leaders and more accessible to outsiders than non-leaders [ 9 ].

Illiberal liberalism

Being an Amish bishop or minister is an unpaid job so the 35 leaders participating all had other professions and hobbies in addition to their duties as ordained clergymen. This group was very eclectic containing entrepreneurs, farmers, furniture makers, buggy-builders, cabinet makers, mechanical engineers, millionaires, school board members, patent holders, a historian, a manager at a multi-national corporation, a clock-maker, an employee at a business that sells almost two million dollars worth of product on a popular online auction Web site and at least one world traveler.

As is conventional among the Amish, these men had only eighth grade educations and were largely self-taught. Additionally, an effort was made ahead of time to learn as much as possible about Amish social structures, history, culture, belief, social convention, and ritual from existing research.