Eighth Brown Bag of the Semester – March 28, 2014

Lindsay Ems, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Approaches to Amish technology use: Toward preserving cultural autonomy in the digital age


Among information communication and technology for development (ICT4D) researchers, communication technologies like cell phones, computers and the internet are seen as essential for improving economic conditions and general well-being among members of marginalized communities. In this talk, ethnographic research conducted among the Amish will be presented that complicates such assumptions. Dissertation fieldwork will be described in which Amish business and church leaders were interviewed in two Amish communities in Indiana regarding their views on and experiences with new information communication technologies. Generally a conservative religious group known for its members living pre-modern lifestyles, the Amish do not take a hard line against all new technologies, as some may think. They do typically reject electricity supplied via the public power grid, television, radio, automobiles, and modern clothing fashions. However, among the diverse population of American Amish today, it is not uncommon to see people roller-blading, families enjoying time on the lake in a motorboat, construction workers using power tools, homes with solar panels on the roof, businesses with websites and Facebook pages and Amish folks using cell phones to talk and send text messages. Though at first glance these choices may seem contradictory, they are actually the result of a sophisticated internal process in place to calibrate the link that connects them to the global network society. They view this processes as critical to the sustainability and empowerment of their community over time. One particular approach to calibrating the Amish link to the outside world involves privileging the human body as an optional, ideal communication medium. The implications of this include an intentional geo-spatial design of everyday life to encourage human-to-human contact and discourage human contact mediated by technology.


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