The relationship between the Amish and technology is not so absolutist as most probably imagine. A recent article on the use of Facebook among Amish teens illustrates the complex, varied, and surprising ways in which the so-called Plain People interact with technology:

There are no statistics to show how many Amish are on Facebook, the social networking site used by an estimated 500 million people worldwide. But some, in a community that shuns electricity in their homes, won’t buy cars and maintains traditional garb, say the number of Plain kids using Facebook — often logging on via their cellphones — appears to be increasing….

…Erik Wesner, an author who runs a blog called “Amish America,” said he corresponds with many Amish via email. Typically, he said, email is justified as a business concession…

…The Amish slowly, sometimes surreptitiously, adopt new technologies. A century ago, Amish bishops — who set the boundaries for what is and what isn’t permissible for their congregations — forbade phone ownership. Eventually, they permitted groups of Amish to install “community phones” in “phone shacks” outside homes. Then some of them allowed phones inside businesses….

One might speculate that increasing technology would erode Amish communities but unlike many other fundamentalist communities, the Amish seem to want children to have a real choice about whether they stay in the community, and to do so with their eyes wide open. This can be seen in the Amish tradition of rumspringa, which allows Amish youth to live life outside Amish rules and see what their lives would be like if they left the community. If full exposure to the temptations of the modern world were enough to lead to the decline of the Amish, then one would expect it to have happened already. As the article details, Amish children have always dabbled in new technologies:

Still, [one local] Amishman said, Amish youth have always been attracted to new technologies and trends. “When automobiles came out, some Amish rode in automobiles,” he said. “When Rollerblades became popular, some Amish Rollerbladed. Most anything that comes along, some Amish kids will pick it up.”

For now, the reaction to Facebook in Amish communities ranges from preaching against it directly to being completely unaware of it:

The Amishwoman at the stand near Gap said one local minister actually did preach against Facebook in recent weeks. Others, she said, are vaguely worried, aware that it’s happening but unsure how many are involved. And they’re also hampered by the fact that many older Amishmen and women simply don’t know what Facebook is.

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