An important part of a recent vacation was spent in the Lancaster Pennsylvania area—also called “Amish Country.” When I lived closer, visits to the area were frequent and I developed a familiarity with the area. So this was an interesting opportunity to return after a decade of absence.There is much truth in the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” While there were some obvious changes to the area—it was equally obvious that many things have not changed. I have always avoided the heavily trafficked tourist areas and never shared the common perspective that Amish folks are a tourist attraction. I’ve always considered myself a guest among these special people.
One favorite back road farm stand had not changed much, although the attendant was now a nine year old Amish girl working alone indicating a new generation is now involved. She was pleasant and efficient, totaling up our purchases using a simple calculator. When I presented her with an unusual combination of bills and coin she pushed the calculator aside, took my offering, and counted back the correct change without hesitation. Watching her box our purchases cheerfully and carefully in the hundred degree heat was humbling.
I can’t help but contrast this with another experience several days prior. We ate at a restaurant where some of the servers were perhaps nearly twice my Amish friend’s age. Several of them actually couldn’t stop texting (or talking) on their smart cell phones while they were walking between the kitchen and their customers’ tables. They of course used computers to document our order and calculate our final bill. I did not test our waitress’s change making ability—credit cards eliminate that need anyway.
The Amish are also among one of the most misunderstood groups of people, often considered “backward” and “out of touch.” The point of this contrast is not to demonstrate that–the point is quite the contrary.
I would offer that the Amish are actually quite progressive. What makes them “different” is that they are selectively progressive. (Remember, my young friend did use a calculator for part of the transaction. Not long ago a brown paper bag and pencil would have been the tool of choice.) The important distinction between the Amish and society in general is that the Amish only embrace technology after careful and deliberate consideration of the impact it will have on individuals, families, and the community.
One of my frequent observations that might parallel this is “just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should do it.” We are inclined to want the latest and best. Technology offers lots of temptations. Why watch that old TV when you can have a wide screen? (The Amish question might be “why watch TV at all?”) Only a few months to go and I can upgrade my smart phone to one that’s even smarter! The possibilities are endless, really.
So while it would be possible and perhaps be nice to be able to order online from that farm stand in Pennsylvania (they make incredible pickles), I’m willing to concede that for this Amish family to embrace that technology would require some major changes in their lives. And for me it would mean that a visit a few years from now not only wouldn’t be necessary, but wouldn’t be possible.
Call me backward and out of touch, but I’m not ready to give those visits up.