The Amish Social Network

Nominated for Best Picture and other Oscars, the movie “The Social Network” was an intriguing interpretation, and a great film, about the founder and beginning of Facebook. How the internet and social interactions will be transformed is ongoing
and evolving. We can now share information with friends and family, everything from photos to the instant communication of a text or mass communication via tweets.

The number of hours we spend in front of a screen at home and at work on a daily basis is staggering. Those of us in the tourism industry have always enjoyed the face-to-face interaction of meeting and talking to people. Watching for
facial reactions and getting the nuances of speech are more easily interpreted and more comprehensive than a chat on Skype.
Smelling cookies at a bakery or feeling the moist nose of a cow are experiences still not duplicated by a computer, even via your avatar.

Most of this talk of the social network and Facebook is foreign to the Amish, except for some teenagers. But the Amish certainly have a “social network” of their own. Much of this is face-to-face communication, be it with family and relatives, to others in the church district and community. When the Amish go for a visit to a friend’s home, the verb “visit” actually seems to mean sitting and chatting. There is no playing cards or watching a movie.

Almost any gathering of Amish involves catching up, such as before and after church where men and women, usually in separate groups, sit and talk. Young people get together for hymn sings and sometimes games of baseball or volleyball.
Weddings are a huge gathering of friends and extended family. Activities from quilting bees to filling silo can also be times of social interaction.

While none of these situations, from work to school to social gatherings, is unique to the Amish, their frequency and integration is. This forms a close knit community, where neighbors actually know each other. The importance of face-to-face communication remains. From weddings to funerals, the Amish usually travel around advising those in the community of the
event. Even the use of phones is limited, as they remain outside of the house, except for those pesky cell phones, an issue with which the Amish are still grappling.

For some of us non-Amish, this inability to communicate instantly with the Amish may seem frustrating. We may be forced to leave a message, send a letter, or actually go to see the person. To us, it seems so much more could be accomplished with instant communication, email, the car, etc. But some Amish observe us using all of this technology and see us as more
stressed out as we busily try to accomplish everything we think we need to do. Not having all of this technology actually
forces a different way of living and communicating for the Amish.

But the Amish, especially those in business, do need to try and keep up with the times to stay competitive. For some time, many local Amish have had websites maintained by outsiders. Amish businesses may have a fax machine, and maybe even a computer. It is normally stripped of most programs and is used mainly for producing documents, records, accounting, and not for accessing the internet, watching movies, or playing video games. But what about email?

Recently, I came across an advertisement for a service provided by a non-Amish company. They receive email questions and orders on behalf of the Amish business. They then convert the email into a fax, and send it to the Amish business. There an answer is prepared and faxed back. And then the service turns it into an email and sends it back to the customer!

As the world evolves, we (and the Amish) will need to decide how to adapt, expand, or limit the impact and consequences of new technologies, both on our values and our lives, not to mention how we interact and exchange information with others. Care to be a fan of mine on Facebook?


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