The Amish as hackers

Paul Raven @ 14-02-2009

Amish-rollerbladerThanks to movie clichés, we all know that the Amish eschew technological advances in favour of a minimalist pastoral lifestyle of horse-drawn buggies and water mills. But as with many of clichés, there’s a lot of falsehoods clustered around a grain of truth.

Kevin Kelly has been researching Amish customs, and it turns out that they’re much more pragmatic about technology than you might think. Kelly claims that the younger, less hardcore Amish can be seen as hackers, treating the framework of rules they inherit from their religion as a system to be tweaked in light of new developments:

Turns out the Amish make a distinction between using something and owning it. The Old Order won’t own a pickup truck, but they will ride in one. They won’t get a license, purchase an automobile, pay insurance, and become dependent on the automobile and the industrial-car complex, but they will call a taxi. Since there are more Amish men than farms, many men work at small factories and these guys will hire vans driven by outsiders to take them to and from work. So even the horse and buggy folk will use cars – under their own terms. (Very thrifty, too.)

Kelly makes the point that we could learn a lot from their frugal approach, by learning to say no to tech for tech’s own sake. As an example of sustainable living, the Amish probably rank pretty highly among Western communities.

But imagine for a moment that lots of small local communities decided to relinquish technology, but each to different degrees as they felt best befitted their circumstances. How disorientating would it be to arrive in a region where the cultural clock ran much slower or much faster? [via MetaFilter; image by Darcy Johnson]

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