Alex Wright

Amish Technophilia

February 9, 2006

I just noticed Kevin Kelly has picked up blogging his book-in-progress again after an extended hiatus. Here he pens an interesting contrarian take on the Amish, whom he sees not as Luddites, but rather as technologists with an agenda:

The Amish seem to be a bundle of contradictions. They ride rollerblades but not automobiles. They use disposable diapers but not washing machines. They eagerly plant genetically modified crops but refuse to vaccinate themselves. They renounce zippers but not solar panels. Out in their fields, they’ll pull their noisy smelly diesel-powered combine with natural draft horses instead of a tractor. So what is going on?
These days the Amish aren’t so opposed to batteries or solar power either. They use huge batteries in their horse carriages to power the headlights and taillights, which are more often hi-tech LEDs. Solar panels to charge batteries for flashlights and other small devices can be seen on Amish rooftops. What the Amish gain in keeping out electricity from the grid is their identity. They are slowly accumulating many of the functions of electrified gadgets, but on their terms: no monthly bills, no off-the-shelf gadgets, no infinite supply, no way to say no to the next new thing. If they want to use electricity it is a lot of trouble, although possible for small items (no air conditioners). This alternative way allows them to maintain a separateness, a distance from “the world,” and a way to say to themselves and their children, “We are different. We have different priorities.”
> Kevin Kelly, Identity from What-Is-Not

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