Amish 2.0

The Amish people in Pennsylvania have long maintained independence from the rest of society. But even they have begun to embrace modern technology. Solar panels have made life easier while protecting the self-sufficiency that many Amish guard so fiercely.

At first glance, the Amish people in Pennsylvania have maintained the same lifestyle for centuries. The landscape is dotted with corn and soy fields, muckrakes, clothes lines, mechanical lawn mowers and horse carriages. But when you take a closer look, the beginning of the 21st century is becoming evident here. On the rear side, the carriages have batteries that charge LED lamps during the night. The power source: solar panels.

Seclusion amidst civilization

The Amish, a secluded Christian community wanting to keep away from the modern world, have introduced technology without much notice from the outside world. Instead of speeding over the highway in a mini van, they still drive their black buggies on rural back roads. But the roofs of their houses and barns are covered in solar panels. Flashing in the sunlight, they charge the batteries of peasants and craftspeople that dwell below. Not long ago, those batteries were charged by gas or diesel generators.

The Amish are often afraid of becoming too worldly and materialistic, which is why they aim at being completely self-sufficient. In order to protect the community from allegedly bad outside influences, some initiatives that sought the installation of solar panels even came before local councils. But the bishop who presided over one of these meetings sided with the modernizers. The new technology did not pose a threat to the independence that the Amish defend so fiercely. After all, they make use of solar energy for washing machines, water pumps and fridges but not for iPod’s, Gameboys and laptops. Even today, TV sets and cars are frowned upon. To many Amish, these amenities of modern civilization endanger the “good life” they seek. They do not want their children to worship the latest rock stars but to concentrate on the essential things in life. Cars – which would allow you to travel large distances – are similarly unimaginable in this society. The logic behind this is that someone who does not have a car also cannot move far away of one’s parents and siblings. For the Amish, there is only one important network: the family.

Back to the future

In the age of globalization, the Amish people have evolved into trendsetters for the autarchy movement (despite their alleged backwardness). With gas prices rising even in the land of unrestricted movement – the US – more people are turning to alternative sources of power. An enlightening concept in the true sense of the word. While the whole world is talking about increasing its interconnectedness, counter-movements aimed at increasing self-sufficiency are beginning to arise here and there. The Amish have skipped this step altogether.

Seeking religious freedom, the Amish migrated from Germany and Switzerland to Pennsylvania in the 18th Century. Normally, the media-shy Amish refuse most technological comforts as “too mundane” because of their religious beliefs. In order to charge the batteries for their buggies, electric fences, fridges and sawing machines, they do not want to use the public grid. But they accept the sun as a source of power because they can still maintain independence from the outside world. To phrase it in religious terms: it’s like using God’s power socket.

Read more in this debate: Marcin Jakubowski, Rob Hopkins.

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