Tech, Amish Style

by Teresa Lynch

Amish admiring NiagaraRecently, the Graduate and Professional Student Organization (GPSO) reviewed applications for its 2013 Research Awards. The GPSO uses a rigorous and competitive, double-blind, peer review process to select award recipients. This year, Doctoral Candidate Lindsay Ems received the competitive funding for her dissertation “What’s in a boundary? Exploring the subcultural dynamics that protect the Amish way of life in a high-tech world.”

Linsday says “[her] dissertation focuses on understanding how Amish people draw boundaries around their communities through their technology use. Rules governing technology use for the Amish, in general, are the result of a set of compromises. They must maintain financial viability in a competitive, modern economy in order to sustain their community over the long term. And, at the same time, they do not want the outside world to influence their moral, ethical and religious values/practices or their intimate human relationships.”

In order to perform her study, Lindsay will need to visit Amish communities around the US to conduct interviews and do observations. She plans to use the Research Award primarily to cover travel costs. Of her chosen locations, Lindsay says “[Lancaster County, PA and Shipshewanna, IN] are the largest and third largest populations (respectively) of Amish people in the country. Daviess County [IN] is an Old Order (more conservative) community to which I could drive and come back in the same day. And, Kalona [IA] is a unique community in Iowa, known for their more progressive approach to technology adoption.”

In particular, she’s interested in addressing the role of digital technology in identity and protection of subcultures. Because of their balance in using tech at work, but not in other aspects of their lives, the Amish provide an excellent opportunity for Linsday’s research area. She says, “this conflicted arena, I think, will reveal some of the complexities of balancing technology use and the preservation of morals, ethics and intimate human relationships. These, obviously, are issues all of us face on a daily basis. Through talking to Amish people about their technology use and observing them at work, I hope to gain some insights into how they are drawing community boundaries and achieving balance (if they are) between technology use and the preservation of their community values and intimate relationships.”

Aside from carefully and thoroughly describing all of the theoretical, logistical and methodological details, Lindsay suggests being concise and focusing on the greater relevance and contribution of the research. “All of us are concerned about the impact of communication technologies on our intimate social relationships,” said Lindsay. “I made the connection between this and my research. I think writing about your work with that in mind is a good way to help your application stand out.”

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