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Amish Hackers: How the Amish actually use and build their own tech (kk.org)
86 points by whatusername on Jan 12, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments

Great article. "Amish as Luddites" is a notion of which I was disabused when I was going to school in Indiana. I worked in the Electronics department at Walmart. The Amish would come in by the van full, driven by a local farmer (who kept a van for this purpose, and was well paid for his services).

The boys and younger men would come into electronics and buy just about anything that took batteries: CD and cassette players, lots and lots of country music, Gameboys (the original black and white model), etc. Our bins of developed photos were full of packages labled "Schwartz" (in that are, the most common Amish last name) as Walmart electronics was the cheapest place to get film developed.

I had many friendly conversations with the older men, who loved to talk. The women never talked to outsiders at all, and always kept to themselves.

I once watched them build a car audio store with installation bay across the street from the college. It went up remarkably fast, and I've never seen anything built quite that way. I could not figure out what they were doing at first. They sunk all sorts of posts in concrete footings, before the slab was poured. The posts were all over the place, seemingly random, and all of them different lengths. When that was done, the cement crew came in and poured the slab (not an Amish crew, obviously). After it was set, the Amish were back with chain saws and hand saws. They cut off the posts at precisely measured lengths. Floor and ceiling joists quickly followed, and that sucker was done in short order. I don't know if this is how they build their own barns, but I'm guessing yes.

There was a short-lived reality TV show called Amish in the City (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish_in_the_City) .

One thing that was apparent was that the Amish kids might come across as country bumpkins, but some of them were quite smart.

I recall one of the last episodes showing one of the Amish characters, who only went to 8th grade in the Amish school system, getting his GED marks: 99% and 98% across the board (see: http://www.tv.com/amish-in-the-city/show/28781/summary.html) ... incidentally a total indictment of the US public education system.

It's called 'post-and-beam' and it is a very nice and traditional way of putting up a building.

I considered using it for an addition to our house in Canada but eventually settled for the more common 2x6 sandwich construction.

The building was fairly large (42x27, 2 stories with loft) and I didn't feel like taking my chances on something that I didn't have enough 'working examples' of all around me.

"... It's called 'post-and-beam' ... I considered using it for an addition to our house in Canada but eventually settled for the more common 2x6 sandwich construction. ..."

Was that because of cost? (time X exerpertise) or for other reasons?

Simply because I couldn't find anybody with that kind of experience locally. We built the whole thing ourselves, (foundation included) contracting was definitely not in the budget.

pictures here:


It doesn't look very large but the building next to it could stand in the middle of the other one if there were a hole in the floor.

That was the first time I ever put up a construction of that size, my previous experience was limited to fixing things up, never to put up the main structure.

"... We built the whole thing ourselves ..."

Impressive. I'm always in awe of those who build their own houses. It's much harder than it looks. How well insulated is it with the cold?

RSJ "I" beam ~ http://pics.ww.com/v/jacques/building/100_0259.JPG.html

Excellent, solar panels ~ http://pics.ww.com/v/jacques/building/100_0384.JPG.html

You can buy kits for post and beam houses. They start at $17,000.


I've had it explained to me not as an aversion to technology, but an aversion to anything that prevents people from being together, communicating and close. Of course their definition of "things that prevent people from being together and communicating" seems a bit odd to outsiders, but there is a kind of logic to it.

Agreed, I believe their caution on cell phones and the internet is due to the fact it enables people to be farther away. Without the internet, I doubt I would have emigrated to a country ~6,000km from my family and without phones I doubt my in-laws would have migrated ~1,500km away from theirs. My own parents moved away from their family, but a lack of technology wouldn't have stopped that one.

I believe cell phones and the internet haven't helped with community cohesion, or even family cohesion. I do believe it has enabled people to not settle with the "well that's all we have", which where I grew up was the de-facto response to a lot of things. Abysmal job opportunities, abysmal urban environment/quality, the only opportunities for pretty much everything was on the other side of the country. The majority of people I knew left their families behind, those that didn't were already stuck in the "well that's all we have" attitude.

The Amish have the attitude of making their own opportunities, so I believe cell phones and the internet could truly hurt their community how they have chosen to make it. Where I grew up opportunities weren't made by the local community, it had a disgusting unemployment rate (this wasn't because of seasonal work mind you, this was simply due to people refusing to work) and I personally enjoy working. If my community had made opportunities, something would have likely attracted my attention before the 'outside' did.

If you haven't yet read Better Off by Eric Brende, I highly recommend it. The author, studying at MIT but disillusioned with the relentless push of new technology, decides to live among a community (which he delicately calls "Minimites") that has eschewed modern conveniences.

It turns out they're not really opposed to technology or innovation, but rather focus their energies and efforts on ever-more convenient human-powered machines, coupled with an aggressively minimalist approach to their 'needs'.

In one telling passage, the author is helping the men gather food to feed their horses over the winter, which turns out to be the primary use of the horses themselves (rather like needing to take a distant job so you can afford your car, which you need to get to your distant job).

When Brende points this out, one of the men laughs and decides on the spot to get rid of his horse. The Minimites are many things, but afraid of change is not one of them.

An interesting article. But I find a couple of things about it odd.

First, he says:

> ... Amish practices are ultimately driven by religious belief: the technological, environmental, social, and cultural consequences are secondary. They often don't have logical reasons for their policies.

Of course, there is no rule that says religion cannot be logical. Regardless, he says a little later:

> Behind all of these variations is the Amish motivation to strengthen their communities.

And then he spends several paragraphs giving a logical, well reasoned account of how various technologies (cars, electricity) were rejected because of their impact on the community.

Second, while carefully explaining one group, the old-order Amish, he very much mischaracterizes another: the Luddites. These were not people who simply rejected all new technology; they were protestors against the social changes produced by the industrial revolution. And their protests sometimes took the form of violent destruction of textile factories. It seems they didn't want to be mere cogs in some huge corporate machine, a sentiment I think most of us can empathize with (regardless of whether we approve of their methods).

I remember a TV program that showed the woodshop of a Mennonite farmer. He had a windmill running an air compressor, and a full set of modern air-powered woodworking tools.

Very interesting...I feel like I understand the Amish culture and mindset a lot better. I can respect their views a lot more now that I know where they're coming from.

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