When your knowledge of the Amish comes mainly from 80s movies, it’s hard not to be fairly ignorant of what their life is actually like. So this article article about Amish hackers really blew me away. They use a lot more technology than I would have supposed – diesel generators? Tractors? They are considering using cell phones. Apparently, they don’t want to be connected to the electricity grid, so they have modified all their home appliances, such as blenders, to use pneumatic tubes for power. “Amish electricity” they call it.
In fact, this quote really struck me:
Behind all of these variations is the Amish motivation to strengthen their communities. When cars first appeared at the turn of last century the Amish noticed that drivers would leave the community to go shopping or sight-seeing in other towns, instead of shopping local and visiting friends, family or the sick on Sundays. Therefore the ban on unbridled mobility was aimed to make it hard to travel far, and to keep energy focused in the local community. Some parishes did this with more strictness than others.
A similar communal motivation lies behind the Old Order Amish practice of living without electricity. The Amish noticed that when their homes were electrified with wires from a generator in town, they became more tied to the rhythms, policies and concerns of the town. Amish religious belief is founded on the principle that they should remain ‘in the world, not of it” and so they should remain separate in as many ways possible.
The first bit almost sounds like it could have come from a New Urbanist! Maybe those Amish were onto modern urban planning way before us. Of course, this whole “in the world, not of it” makes me think that maybe not so much?
The other cool thing is that solar panels are becoming popular among the Amish. With these they can get electricity without being tied to the grid, which was their main worry. Solar is used primarily for utilitarian chores like pumping water, but it will slowly leak into the household. It sounds as if modern life and Amish life might begin to almost merge. After all, the Amish aim to be fairly sustainable, self-sufficient, and community oriented which sounds like the dream of a lot of urban planners and environmentalists. Minus the religious bits, of course.