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By Roth, John D. | Mennonite Quarterly Review, January 2014 | Go to article overview

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Roth, John D., Mennonite Quarterly Review


Of all the qualities of Amish life that fascinate modern people today, none is likely to evoke stronger reactions--ranging from admiration to disgust; from bewilderment to outright incredulity--than the Amish suspicion of technological innovation. For most Americans, upgrading a cell phone, opting for a faster computer, or embracing tools that save time and energy is a self-evident assumption, if not a moral imperative. By contrast, the Amish selective acceptance of some technologies and rejection of others--allowing a phone booth at the end of the lane, for example, while refusing to have a landline phone inside the house--seems blatantly hypocritical. In June 2013 the Young Center for Pietist and Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College hosted an international conference titled "Amish America: Plain Technology in a Cyber World" that brought scholars from many disciplines into a conversation about Amish attitudes and practices regarding technology. Although the essays compiled in this issue of MQR represent only a fraction of the papers presented at the conference, they do suggest some directions of contemporary scholarship on this theme.

In the opening article, Karen Johnson-Weiner, an anthropologist at SUNY-Potsdam, challenges the commonly held assumption that the Amish "reject" technology. In point of fact, the Amish use various forms of technology routinely in their daily lives, and they are continually adjusting their practices as the context around them changes. The critical point, she argues, is that the Amish are highly conscious and discerning users of technology, always attentive to the unanticipated consequences that new technologies may have on family life and community relations. Johnson-Weiner also dispels another standard myth regarding the uniformity of Amish practice. Some Amish groups, she notes, have kept technological innovations to a minimum in order to preserve family farm economies and shared community labor; other groups, however, have allowed for a wider range of new technologies as they adapt to economic change. In either case, the Amish recognize that these decisions will have significant implications for family, community and church.

In the essay that follows, Christopher G. Petrovich provides a clear illustration. Although all Amish groups reject car ownership, affirm the Dordrecht Confession, and regard community life as an essential part of their identity, a wide variety of distinct Amish affiliations have emerged within these basic parameters. …

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