Accepted Paper:

Critical Making: Amish Innovation for Community Empowerment  

Author:

Lindsay Ems (Butler University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper contributes to our understanding of critical making practices in Amish communities. Amish makers are repurposing and creating new technologies that better adhere to their community values. Such practices help protect Amish cultural autonomy in our capitalistic and digital social world.

Paper long abstract:

Based on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Indiana Amish settlements and artifact analyses, this paper explores the political implications of everyday socio-technical making practices in Amish communities. In particular, this paper explores socio-technical innovations that reflect and protect Amish religious and cultural values in a capitalistic high-tech information economy.

The Amish have a long history of deciding which new technologies to accept and which to reject. Generally a conservative religious group known for its members living pre-modern lifestyles, the Amish do not take a hard line against all new technologies. Interestingly, the Amish do not seek complete isolation from the rest of the world. Like us, they participate in the global network society today to make a living, travel and maintain relationships. One way they accomplish this is to create new information communication technologies that better adhere to their values.

For example, a device known as "the black box phone" is a landline phone with an attachment (a "black box") that connects the phone to the local cellular network. It is powered by plugging it into an automobile's cigarette lighter (making it a mobile telephone). This device is preferable to cell phones, because it only allows public, verbal conversations—no texting or internet access. This unique modification is in better alignment with Amish values. It forces public communication so peers can hold each other accountable for their actions. It also prohibits the flow of outside ideologies into the community, which could result in individualism, pride and dissolution of close-knit community bonds.

Panel T107
Maker Movement, FabLabs, Hackerspace and improvisation: Science, Technology and Education by other means?