- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Aaron, an Amish small business owner in Lancaster County, uses computer software for his bookkeeping and exchanges e-mails with customers to nail down jobs.

He uses a digital camera to keep photos of job sites on file. He and his foremen, also Amish, stay in touch on their cell phones.

“You want to do business with the modern world, you’re going to have to run behind them to a certain extent,” he says.

Consider that most Amish teens in Lancaster County now have cell phones.

Lancaster County’s Amish, a people admired for their seeming ability to resist the worst of modern society, are embracing - or at least tolerating - new technology as never before.

Televisions, bicycles, gas-powered tractors and the ownership of vehicles are just as off limits as they’ve ever been as an insulation to worldliness.

But lines are blurring for many other staples of the English world.

Computers, the Internet, websites, cell phones - even electricity in some cases - are becoming more tolerated, especially to run businesses and as long as they’re kept out of the home.

An Amishman looking for replacement parts for machinery these days is likely to no longer find them in printed catalogues. The Internet is often his only source.

And what successful company doesn’t have a website advertising its products these days?

Even landline telephones, once banished to outhouse-looking sheds, are moving into basements.

Often, the changes have come with divisions in congregations. Aaron, who requested his last name not be used, recalls a renewed discussion about the use of cell phones in his church’s congregation less than two months ago.

“The discussion was, everything is right there in the palm of your hand. If it was hooked to the Internet, with the young kids, it could probably be more bad than good,” he recalls.

“There were a couple ugly opinions raised. We just kind of let it as we did before - you don’t want to abuse them.”

Often, it seems, there are no clear-cut verdicts and so the technology is more or less tolerated.

Sunday afternoon, about a dozen Amish teenage boys and girls gathered at Paradise Community Park to play softball. Cell phones were placed on benches, next to mitts.

Asked if most Amish teens they know use cell phones, several nod yes. Most teens use them only to make calls but some also are linked to the Internet, they say.

One girl is asked if the church gives its blessing to cell phone use. The question makes her laugh. “They don’t really say it’s OK, no.”

You can’t generalize with the Amish, warns Donald Kraybill, an Elizabethtown College professor and expert on Anabaptist groups.

There are nearly 200 distinct Amish districts in Lancaster, York and Chester counties, and each is autonomous in how it deals with technological issues. Despite popular belief, it’s individual congregations, not bishops, who have the final say on uses of technology, he says.

“That’s like 200 ways of being Amish,” he notes. “The only sweeping generalization is that there is a great amount of diversity.”

Agrees Amos Fisher, who owns Red Well Construction, a majority-Amish-owned business in New Holland, “You can live on one side of the street and computers would be allowed and on the other side of the street, they wouldn’t be allowed. Each church is separate on the issues.”

Even so, Kraybill has noticed dramatic changes in the increased use of technology in recent years.

A hot-button item currently is the use of solar energy to recharge batteries that are used to drive small appliances or lights on buggies.

And more and more homes have small generators to power such conveniences as vacuum cleaners and coffee makers.

The Amish, he says, “are not anti-technology. They selectively use technology.”

Generally, he says, they respond to technology in five ways.

One, they reject certain things that would threaten their traditional way of life. Thus, a direct line to the power grid is banned. But a 12-volt battery to power an appliance is all right.

Often the distinction is one of ownership. Amish can’t own a vehicle, but they can ride in someone else’s or even lease a car for someone to drive them around.

Kraybill knows of Amish businesses that lease an office building wired with electricity.

“What that does is create a kind of separation between them and the technology. And it creates a continual reminder of the negative consequences of the technology,” he says.

Certain other technological advances are deemed useful and safe. Modern compound bows are OK, as well as in-line skates and trampolines.

With other technologies, they “Amish-ize” them to fit within church regulations, Kraybill says. He gives the example of an electric bench saw purchased for use on the farm. The electric motor is then removed and one driven by pneumatic force air installed in its place. Or, in the kitchen, there may be a refrigerator powered by propane gas.

A fifth way Amish vet technology is to design their own. The Amish invented “spinners,” stainless steel cylinders pneumatically or battery powered that rotate rapidly and remove water from freshly washed clothes.

Though the reins seem to be loosening, change still drives deep passions in the Amish.

Though he uses a cell phone himself, Aaron has strong feelings against his children’s use in his home.

“At home, when I was growing up, we all sat at the table,” he says. “That was family time. Looking back, that was precious.

“Now, they’re bringing them to the table and communicating with each other by text messages.”

In a world where people will wait for hours outside a store to buy the latest cell phone, the kind of circumspection the Amish retain is healthy, Kraybill thinks.

“In many ways, they are wise to think about how technology changes the way we think and interact with each other. They are really reflective and thoughtful about that.”





Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era , https://lancasteronline.com

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