A Word to the Amish: Be Careful

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room recently reading that morning’s newspaper when a woman suddenly spoke up.

“You know,” she said. “I haven’t seen someone reading an actual, printed newspaper in years.”

She sure knows how to make a guy feel old.

Then there was the article in The Wall Street Journal about the dilemma of young adults in Australia. 

It seems that the country is holding a national mail-in referendum. The dynamic is that while 80% of millennial-age voters support the proposal, they don’t know how to mail a letter.

“Australians don’t do postal votes,” according to Tiernan Brady who runs the Equality campaign. “The last one was in 1917, so we can safely say no one alive remembers it.”

The reality is that most people don’t mail much these days. Australia Post says that business and government mail account for 95% of all letters.

One head of an advocacy group said “There’s a whole younger demographic who don’t know what those big red (mail) boxes on the street are.”

“No one really checks the mail at our share house,” said one 29 year old. “It winds up piled up somewhere in the house. It’s an object of curiosity.”

He said he would do a google search to find a mailbox where he can mail in his ballot. Meanwhile, he reported that he prefers communicating over WhatsApp and other instant-messaging platforms.

He doesn’t text much he told the Wall Street Journal, “unless it’s for my parents.”


Then there was the New York Times article about the slow drift of the nation’s Amish communities to the use of computers and cellphones for business purposes while continuing to shun the entrance of electricity and communication devices into their homes.

“A young woman, wearing a traditional full-length Amish dress and white bonnet, stepped away from a farmer’s market, opened her palm and revealed a smartphone,” the newspaper reported. “She began to scroll through screens, seemingly oblivious to the activity around her.

“Not far away, a man in his late 60s with a silvery beard, wide-brimmed straw hat and suspenders adjusted the settings on a computer-driven crosscut saw. He was soon cutting pieces for gazebos that are sold online and delivered around the country.

“The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example.

“But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.”

There are limits, however, and some disagreement about these trends, even in the workplace.

“If you can just look it up on the internet, you’re not thinking,” said Levi, another woodworker. “The more people rely on technology, the more we want to sit behind a desk. But you can’t build a house sitting behind a desk.”

“My concern for our future, for our own children,” he said, “is that they lose their work ethic.”

Some young people do not agree.

Marylin, 18, said that when she and her friends gather for church activities, their youth leaders ask them to respect that they’re together and not use the phones, “so we only check our messages and the time and stuff.”

But she insisted that some changes are necessary.

“We can’t live like we did 50 years ago because so much has changed,” she said. “You can’t expect us to stay the same way. We love our way of life, but a bit of change is good.”

While using some modern equipment for work, some Amish are concerned about how far to go with changes.

John said he has his worries about where technology is taking the Amish community.

“We’re not supposed to have computers; we’re not supposed to have cellphones,” he said. “We’re allowed to have a phone, but not in the house. But to do business, you need a computer, or access to one, and that phone moves into the house. So how do you balance that?”

Lizzie said she was upset by how people had become so attached to their phones.

“People are treating those phones like they are gods,” she said. “They’re bowing down to it at the table, bowing down to it when they’re walking. Here we say we don’t bow down to idols, and that’s getting dangerously close, I think.”

Contrast, then, that changing social pattern with some strong caution in a recent special “Cybersecurity” section of The Wall Street Journal.

“As vehicles fill up with more digital controls and internet-connected devices, they’re becoming more vulnerable to cybercriminals, who can hack into those systems just like they can attack computers. Almost any digitally connected device in a car could become an entry point to the vehicle’s central communications network, opening a door for hackers to potentially take control by, for instance, disabling the engine or brakes.”

“Security experts paint a grim picture of what might lie ahead. They see a growing threat from malicious hackers who access cars remotely and keep their doors locked until a ransom is paid. Cybercriminals also could steal personal and financial data that cars are starting to collect about owners.”

And the problem isn’t limited just to automobiles. Another WSJ article reported, “A growing number of devices in our homes, such as refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and toasters, are connected to the internet….They also pose security challengers for consumers.

“Last year, thousands of internet-connected devices such as cameras and digital video recorders were infected with malware.”

It’s all very thought-provoking and concerning.

Perhaps we and the Amish should be careful before we dive too much deeper into total dependency on our technological society.


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