Amish Hackers

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Today's surprising article: Kevin Kelly on Amish hackers. In a thoughtful article, Kelly explores Amish culture (from an outsider's perspective, anyway) focusing on their use of technology. Kelly's thesis is that the Amish aren't anti-technology per se -- they're just slower to adopt technology, and have a highly developed sense of which technologies they adopt. In Kelly's visits to Amish territory, he witnessed a people who had carefully selected their technologies, balancing family and community values with technological convenience. This attitude towards technology is in stark contrast to the typical Western practice of adopting whatever is newest or fastest.

Here's a snippet from Kelly's article:

...Amish lives are anything but anti-technological. In fact on my several visits with them, I have found them to be ingenious hackers and tinkers, the ultimate makers and do-it-yourselfers and surprisingly pro technology.

...Cruising down the road you may see an Amish kid in a straw hat and suspenders zipping by on roller blades. In front of one school house I spied a flock of parked scooters, which is how the kids arrived there. Not Razors, but hefty Amish varieties. But on the same street a constant stream of grimy mini-vans paraded past the school. Each was packed with full-bearded Amish men sitting in the back. What was that about?

...The Amish are steadily, slow[ly] adopting technology. They are slow geeks. As one Amish man told Howard Rheingold, "We don't want to stop progress, we just want to slow it down," But their manner of slow adoption is instructive.

1. They are selective. They know how to say "no" and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ban more than they adopt.

2. They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory. They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.

3. They have criteria by which to select choices: technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.

4. The choices are not individual, but communal. The community shapes and enforces technological direction.

Read the rest for a thoughtful look at Amish techno-culture (with great photos, too).

(Via Waxy.org. Photo by Dominik Füssel.)

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February 11, 2009 - 12:19pm
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