The Amish, Gelassenheit, and technology

I found this article, “Amish Technology,” very interesting in helping to debunk some popular misinformation about the Amish and their rejection of some technologies, embracing of others, and finding loopholes for yet others. I’d be curious to hear a perspective from someone here in Lancaster County to see if this is an accurate representation or not:

“The Amish were once technophiles. One leading scholar on the Amish said that until the 1920s, ‘the Amish were often the first ones in a community to buy the new inventions as they came on the market’ (Kraybill 1989:173). This is not the reputation they have today. Today, the Amish do not own cars, but they will hire drivers to take them places. They do not have phones in their homes, but many Amish families share “phone shanties” (think, wooden phonebooths). They do not use electricity, but they have refrigerators, generators, and flashlights. We think of the Amish as epitomizing the Luddite philosophy, so how do we reconcile that with their use of these 20th-century innovations?

“To many, these paradoxes seem erratic, illogical, or plain hypocritical. Some outsiders may simply shrug and pity the Amish for such apparent flawed logic. The truth is that “the Amish have an elaborate system by which they evaluate the tools they use” (“Look Who’s Talking,” Wired). The Amish approach to technology is not a carte blanche rejection of technology, nor is it unconditional acceptance.

“The key to understanding the Amish paradox is through something called ‘Gelassenheit.’ Roughly translated, the term means submission. In the Amish context, it specifically refers to yielding absolutely to a higher authority.”

5 thoughts on “The Amish, Gelassenheit, and technology

  1. Wow, what a fascinating discussion. The intentionality of the Amish towards technology is very encouraging (as opposed to "if it was invented in the after the 19th century, I'm not interested", which is the usual implication). More importantly, to engage technology based on your values, not as either "technology is always good" or "technology is always value/morally neutral" is encouraging and enlightening.Thanks for the great reference. My only question is whether the Amish are really that intentional or not? To remain that intentional over close to a century is really hard, and very few communities succeed.

  2. To answer for Brent, Adam, I think they have succeeded to a certain extent. Though I live in Amish country here in Lancaster, PA, I only have limited interaction with the Amish. Your post definitely motivates me to talk with them more to see how well they are succeeding with it. At the least, your post made me appreciate (and feel a little embarrassed) the Amish sense of community every time I pass their buggies with my community-killing automobile :-).

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