This article appeared in the June 13, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/13 edition

What the Amish can teach us about technology

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
People focus on their smartphones near a bus stop in Buffalo, New York. The near-constant use of handhelds in public and private settings has led to a wave of “digital detox” efforts.
Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation

You’ve probably seen a family seated at a restaurant, phones out and eyes down. You’ve been in creeping traffic and caught a driver glancing up from a handheld just in time to mash the brakes. Maybe you’ve checked the time on a bedside phone and started scrolling.

The cost of such actions to human relationships is concerning enough to have inspired a wave of digital detox helpers – from imposed restraints such as stash boxes and Wi-Fi blockers to apps or device settings that regularly shut off connectivity and make you deliberately log back in.

The smartphone’s grip has even prompted nostalgia for pay phones, those “stationary monotaskers.” 

What would the Amish do? That might sound like a rhetorical setup with an easy answer: Let your tech toys die, then bury them in a drawer like so many obsidian bricks.

But within Amish culture are levels of acceptance of purpose-serving tech tools, reports Lindsay Ems in a Wired magazine story adapted from a book just published by MIT Press. It’s a deeply considered embrace, with deference to community customs.

“Getting to know … Amish businessmen showed me that even the most advanced and savvy adopters of new digital technologies believed strongly that they should use technologies in ways that reflected Amish values and lifestyle choices,” writes Dr. Ems, a Butler University professor. 

In this approach, using a smartphone demands attention to how the behavior affects others, her story suggests. Wielding a cellphone should be a judicious act; “it is considered impolite to do so ostentatiously.” Fundamentally, it’s about respect, about modesty and self-control.

“Informal social constraints seem more powerful in regulating behavior and protecting cultural autonomy,” Dr. Ems writes, “than the church’s communally ratified rules.”

This article appeared in the June 13, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/13 edition
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.