It is a one-way conduit to bring another society into their living rooms

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

The Amish have negotiated a pact with modernity:

It’s interesting that the Amish have different districts, and each district has different rules about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Yet it’s very clear there are two technologies that, as soon as the community accepts them, they are no longer Amish. Those technologies are the television and the automobile.

They particularly see those two as having a fundamental impact on their society and daily lives.

I think a huge part is that they shape our relationships with other people. The reason the Amish rejected television is because it is a one-way conduit to bring another society into their living rooms. And they want to maintain the society as they have created it. And the automobile as well. As soon as you have a car, your ability to leave your local community becomes significantly easier.

You no longer have to rely on your neighbor for eggs when you run out. You can literally take half an hour and run to the store. In a horse and buggy, when you don’t have your own chickens, that’s a half-day process.


The Amish use us as an experiment. They watch what happens when we adopt new technology, and then decide whether that’s something they want to adopt themselves. I asked one Amish person why they didn’t use automobiles. He simply smiled and turned to me and said, “Look what they did to your society.” And I asked what do you mean? “Well, do you know your neighbor? Do you know the names of your neighbors?” And, at the time, I had to admit to the fact that I didn’t.

And he pointed out that my ability to simply bypass them with the windows closed meant I didn’t have to talk to them. And as a result, I didn’t.

His argument was that they were looking at us to decide whether or not this was something they wanted to do or not. I think that happens in our society as well. We certainly have this idea of alpha and beta testing. There are people very, very excited to play that role. I don’t know if they always frame themselves as guinea pigs, but that’s what they are.


  1. Kirk says:

    The Amish and Mennonites are an interesting case study in cultural adaptation. One suspects that if we were to suddenly find ourselves confronted with an advanced alien civilization, a bunch of us would go the way a lot of Native American tribes did–Drunken failure, unable to adapt. The Amish and Mennonites would probably do just fine, adopting what they found useful, and continuing on their merry ways. Japan would likely survive the encounter, having adapted their way through similar things several times over their history, although I do suspect they’d double-down on the “weird”, and actually build themselves some of those giant mecha they’re so fond of telling stories about–Probably for rice-farming…

  2. Jim says:

    Mennonites use automobiles and a lot of other modern technology. I’m not sure if they watch television. A big difference between the two is that the Amish are always dressed as if they were coming or going to a funeral. The Mennonites in contrast dress in colorful clothing.

    Also I have never seen an Amish individual smile although I suppose they are capable of it. The groups of Mennonites I have observed are often laughing and smiling among themselves although like the Amish they seem only to associate with each other.

Leave a Reply