The Amish and Technology (and a Marshmallow on a Stick)

The fire crackles and pops. It climbs up the melting twigs and licks at the air. The flames flicker bright, creating dancing shadows in the warm night.

A white marshmallow hovers over the fire. Slowly, the marshmallow changes to a golden brown. Then it travels upward, and in one bite, it disappears into a smiling mouth. Only a sticky residue remains on the stick.

Camping. What word evokes more magic and imagination in your mind? What word more aptly describes bonding with the elements of nature? What word better suggests getting away from it all?

Camping is a modern form of recreation. A hundred years ago, people didn’t go camping. What we call camping now was their way of life back then.

Almost always, when we plan a camping trip, we are seeking to escape technology and the daily grind. We look forward to taking it easy, getting away from civilization, and unwinding.

Even the Amish enjoy camping. You might think the Amish way of life is simple enough that it wouldn’t be necessary to go camping. But contrary to popular opinion, Amish life can be hectic too, and camping is as refreshing for us as it is for general society.

Camping memories

When I was a child, my family would go to Uncle Paul’s cabin once a year for a weekend getaway. Mom would pack all sorts of food into picnic baskets. She’d make a trip to the store the week before and buy treats we rarely received otherwise. Treats such as orange juice, soda pop, chips, and store-bought cookies. For children that were used to homemade food, store-bought cookies were enchanting.

The day we’d go camping was a whirl of activity. Sometimes we had last-minute hay to make. And always there were the chores. We’d do the milking early, run through the shower, and dash out the door. My parents hitched up the buggy and loaded it with camping supplies. It would get so full there was no room for us children. So we rode our bikes behind the buggy.

One of Reuben’s favorite childhood memories is camping at his uncle’s cabin.

We traveled small dirt roads for about 8 miles to get to Uncle Paul’s cabin. This took around 45 minutes with the buggy and bikes. And what excitement when we arrived! We had a real log cabin to sleep in, woods full of wildlife to explore, and a whole weekend of relaxation away from the demands of the farm, with fun and games to look forward to! Our neighbors had been assigned to do our chores while we were gone, so we were truly getting away from it all.

Do the Amish use ‘technology’?

So what do the Amish “get away from?” Technology? Do the Amish have technology?

First of all, what is technology? Technology is finding the means to increase efficiency and eliminate obstacles that hinder achievement.

When we think of technology, we think of the internet, gasoline engines, and electricity. We think of modern inventions such as airplanes, cell phones, and computers. We think of Google, of Twitter, of nuclear energy.

However, ever since there have been humans, there has been technology. People are always trying to come up with better ways to do things. Technology is a rolling snowball of accumulated efforts and inventions. As more people discover more things, it becomes easier to discover more advanced things.

So do the Amish have technology? The answer is: absolutely. The Amish way of life is advancing and changing, just as any other way of life in this world is.

A different perspective on technology

You may argue, but the Amish don’t have electricity and cars. They still live like it’s 1850.

The Amish lifestyle is one of simplicity. While the Amish aren’t opposed to technology, they choose to keep their distance from it.

This may be true in some respects. But this is how the Amish treat technology. Each church district, which is composed of 20-40 families in a specific region, has a bishop who is responsible to govern the regulations of the church. The bishops try to keep their own regulations similar to the surrounding churches. It is the bishop’s responsibility to decide what technology the church will accept, and what to reject. The church then abides by the bishop’s Ordnung, which is reviewed every 6 months and edited if necessary. The entire church votes on whether to accept any changes.

So what guidelines do the Amish use when deciding whether to embrace new technology? The biggest question is, is it helpful or harmful? Other questions are, what will it do to family life? What will it do to our relationship with God? Where will it lead to for future generations?

The Amish are quite happy to embrace technology that is truly helpful to everyday living and is not detrimental to their relationships with God and each other. But if something is handy, but also harmful to our soul, we’d rather do without.

Do you think your life would be easier or harder if you had no TV? What about if you had no phone? What about if you had no car? If life would be easier without it, then why not abstain?

Keeping technology at arm’s length

The Amish have learned to use technology, but they keep it at a distance. They don’t let it into their homes. They don’t own it, and they don’t let it own them.

Still, much has changed in the Amish world. Gone are the days when the majority lived on farms. The Amish have moved into the industrial world. Life at home is still basic and simple, but the pace of life has sped up.

Whether you’re Amish or not, technology is very much a reality. Will you let it control you? Will you be swept away by the storm of ever-changing progress, or will you put your foot down and guard against what will only be a hindrance to your life?

When the storm gets too rough, when life gets too busy, when you feel overwhelmed with obligations and responsibilities, there’s something you can do.

Buy marshmallows. Start a fire. Sit under a starry sky. Shut off your phone, and relax. Watch the flames crackle and pop. Life is simple. Who needs technology? Sometimes life is best with a marshmallow on a stick.

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