Living In An Amish Paradish? (conservative communities)
I couldn't help thinking it was awfully complicated to have a phone you used only for calling back - from a booth in a meadow. Why not make life easier and just put one in the house?
"What would that lead to?" another Amish man asked me. "We don't want to be the kind of people who will interrupt a conversation at home to answer a telephone. It's not just how you use the technology that concerns us. We're also concerned about what kind of person you become when you use it."
Far from knee-jerk technophobes, these are very adaptive techno-selectives who devise remarkable technologies that fit within their self-imposed limits.
New things are not outright forbidden, nor is there a rush to judgment. Rather, technologies filter in when one of the more daring members of the community starts to use, or even purchases, something new. Then others try it. Then reports circulate about the results. What happens with daily use? "Does it bring us together, or draw us apart?" is the question they ask in considering whether to permit or put away a technology.
If a telephone in the home interferes with face-to-face visiting, or an electrical hookup fosters unthinking dependence on the outside world, or a new pickup truck in the driveway elevates one person above his neighbors, then people start to talk about it.
In the middle of Amish country, it occurs to me that Internet culture itself grew out of a kind of virtual Ordnung - the norms of cooperation, information-sharing, and netiquette taught to newbies by the first generations of users. The celebrated "anarchy" of the early days was possible only because of the near-universal adherence to largely unwritten rules. But the Internet population has grown fast - so fast that the sudden influx of tens of millions of newbies has overwhelmed the capacity of the old-timers to pass on the Ordnung. In the process, the Internet loses its unique hallmarks, coming to resemble and reflect the rest of contemporary culture.
Indeed, what does one's use of a tool say to other people, particularly loved ones, about where they stand in our priorities? In my own house, we decided to get a rollover to voicemail instead of call waiting - experiences on the receiving end of call waiting convinced us that both parties on the other end of the line get pissed off when you interrupt the conversation. No matter how absorbing the flame war of the moment might be, I make a point of suspending online communication when someone in my presence attempts to talk with me. And I've come to believe that face-to-face conversation should outrank disembodied conversation via cell phone or email.