7 posts categorized "The Telephone"

February 11, 2008

Reader photos and links

I've been getting some interesting photos and information from you guys and am really enjoying it--keep it coming!

On the ongoing topic of Amish phone booths, here is a photo of one from Wisconsin, sent in by Eric:


Eric says that phone booths in his area of Wisconsin tend to be larger than ones in places like Pennsylvania, with room for a bench and a small writing desk inside.  He also points out that the booths in his area are never found on Amish property, but always on a neighbors'.  That is interesting.  This one is apparently nearly invisible from the road during summer.

Eric also writes that an Amish family he buys wood from was busy harvesting ice on the day he sent this in.  It's apparently a bad season for ice in his area--the ice on the ponds is apparently on the thin side.  Some Amish get ice in this way, or have it delivered by the ice-man.

Scott shares a picture of a new Amish buggy in Wayne County, Ohio:


Scott points out that these newer buggies are more modern than those of yesteryear and incorporate conveniences such as LED lighting.  Lighting on buggies actually originated in some Amish communities pre-WWII, though a number of Amish groups still refuse any sort of electric illumination, using basic oil lamps when traveling in the evening.

And John points us to an article of a few weeks ago which included mention of an 'Amish keynote speaker', David Kline.  I was pleased to read this as I know David and his family and had a very enjoyable talk with him in Ohio last September. 

David's books--Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer's Journal, and Scratching the Woodchuck: Nature on an Amish Farm are supposed to be good reads--though regrettably I haven't had a chance to dig into them yet.  David is big on sustainable agriculture and spends a lot of time writing about it and discussing it.  He's not your typical Amishman, as you might guess.

Thanks to everyone and feel free to send in anything of interest you find out there in Amish America to my email address, would love to hear about it.

January 26, 2008

Got a quarter?


The ubiquitous Amish phone box can be found on patches of Amish-owned land in settlements across the country.  These first two particular crude-looking versions are from the New Wilmington, Pennsylvania settlement, and look to be coin-operated. 

Other Amish employ a more sophisticated system where each user has a personal log-in code.  You can call an Amish person on one of these and leave a message on the user's personal voicemail, which is usually checked fairly regularly. 


For those Amish that don't use cell phones or have their own work phone rigged up in the shop or barn, the phone box is the way to hire a taxi or call relatives out of state.  There are usually enough in any given community so that there is always one within reasonable walking, biking, or 'scootering' distance. 

If you have the local phone box on your land, it will often be located close to the road, perhaps at the end of your lane, where neighbors can access it without having to come too far onto the property.


Why the phone box?  The rationale is that if the phone is not located in the home, it won't interfere as much with family life.  The small inconvenience of having to travel some distance to use the phone discourages unnecessary calls. 

Kraybill tells us in The Riddle of Amish Culture that phones were first put to the test in Amish homes, and failed, in the early twentieth century.  As they were found to encourage gossip and idle chatter, in-home phones quickly joined the list of taboo techonologies.


The other photos are of somewhat fancier phone boxes--note the solar-cell-panel below--and come from various spots around the Holmes County settlement.


December 09, 2007

The Amish and computer issues

Have finally gotten my laptop fixed after a week of it being on the fritz, I've really begun to appreciate the convenience of having wireless internet access in one's own home.  How did we ever live without this stuff?    

Schlepping between internet cafes in Krakow over the past week had started to get old and definitely cut down on computer time.  The inconvenience got me thinking about the Amish and their relationship to computers. 


photo:  dutchcrafters.com

Amish I talk to may have anything from a vague to fairly extensive knowledge of computers and the internet.  I've met a handful that have surfed the web, often in a work environment.  An Amish father friend of mine in Ohio has his own email account at his non-Amish employer--strictly for work purposes, which apparently is kosher in his particular district.  But I'm not so sure the church would look at email usage the same way if he and I were to send non-business messages back and forth to one another.

Amish business manufacturers build luxurious office sets with spots for computer equipment. Many of these same businesses take advantage of the internet as a sales portal, having their own sites or ones owned and managed by a third party, a setup seen in certain congregations which allows individuals to avoid conflict with the church over the more-or-less taboo technology.

Some Amish districts will tolerate businesses having their own computers in the shop, however.  Stopping in at one of the larger Ohio Amish furniture manufacturers recently, Amish employees in the sales department were plugging away in front of laptops.  Some will draw the line at simple word processors--80's-era castaway-type machines--but in this somewhat more liberal Old Order district full-on computers are allowed.  For that matter, a number of Amish businesses in Holmes County, including an Amish-owned accounting firm, a finishing shop, and furniture maker, even use air conditioning in the office.

One of the most common misconceptions about the Amish is that they reject modern technology outright.  As a number of scholars have pointed out, the Amish relationship to any particular piece of technology often involves examination and discussion and perhaps a trial period, before a final decision on it is reached.  Some technologies sneak in the back door in a way, as in the case of cell phones in Lancaster County.

The computer is just another example of a technology that has become more and more prominent, as Amish society adapts to the realities of an increasingly entrepreneurial existence and the resulting closer ties with the non-Amish world.

April 06, 2007

Here comes Bishop Yoder...call me back later!


photo from Wired magazine 

In Amish Country, Lancaster County, a quiet behind-the-scenes battle is happening--it's business vs. the bishops, in a discrete tussle over modern America's favorite portable gadget, the cellphone.

Tensions have risen over the now common device.  "Sometimes I wonder if we're not getting to a point where some of our people don't respect church authority the way they should," says a frustrated spokesman for Amish bishops.  That's from an article out today at Lancaster Online. 


So why is the mobile phone so big here, where elsewhere (though definitely not everywhere) in Amish America it's pretty rare?


Many say it comes down to one factor, and one factor only:  business.

Lancaster County is one of the most entrepreneurial of all settlements.  The phone has gradually snuck its way into the community, apparently starting way back in the 80's.  Many Amish business owners now have them. 

The requirements of running a bumping wood shop, retail sales business, or construction crew now somehow seem to demand technology that Amish have long managed to do without.

But are these increasingly prosperous Lancaster Amish entrepreneurs getting something wrong here? 

Some take that view.  Church leadership often worries about members' priorities.  In Kraybill and Nolt's Amish Enterprise, an Amishman from another community comments that the Lancaster Amish are 'almost hyper about making money...some businesses are very successful and handling A LOT of cash and are RICH period.   That affects the types of houses they build for themselves and for their children, where they travel, where they eat, and what they own.'


Whether that's on the mark is another issue altogether.  But back to the phone--with more and more Amish depending on cottage industry, is it really that indispensable to succeed at business?  After all, Amish have had thriving businesses since well before the cell or even the landline were that common.

In Kraybill and Nolt's Amish Enterprise, one shop owner complains that 'conservative leaders "say that you can run a business this size without a phone.  I'd like them to try it.  You really can't."'

But another Amishman in the Lancaster Online article feels differently: "A cell phone would come in handy, but I don't need it," he says. "You get your wants and your needs mixed up sometimes.

"Besides," he adds, "I'm not aware of any church district in Lancaster where they actually are allowed."

February 14, 2007

Amish dating, Amish smoking: 'Old' and 'New' perspectives

'The typical English guy looks at one of us and just sees an Amish person.  Actually there can be a lot of difference.'

So said a Holmes County Amishman, commenting on the diversity in his area.

Compared to the Old Order Amish, the so-called New Order is a curious mix--one which we might term technologically more liberal, but in some ways culturally more conservative. 

The New Order, which formed in 1966, is similar in dress and transportation to the Old Order, wearing plain clothing and using the horse-and-buggy.

Many New Orders allow phones and even electricity in the home.  They also use tractors in the fields.  Typical Old Orders own tractors but park them by the barn and use the horsepower to fill the silo at harvest time. 

The New Order is adamantly against two practices seen among the Old Order:  bundling and tobacco.

Bundling is an Old World practice of bed courtship.  The dating pair lie fully clothed on the bed together.  Some might call that a recipe for temptation. 


This interesting wiki gives more detail, including some clever uses of a device known as the 'bundling board'. 

Tobacco use is seen in Lancaster County, where it has a long tradition as a cash crop, and in other settlements as well. 

Being anti-smoking is not necessarily being more conservative.  As John Hostetler points out in Amish Society, in some communities, quitting smoking may be taken as identifying with more liberal Mennonite groups.


Hostetler also points out that cigars and pipes are traditionally more acceptable than 'worldly' cigarettes.

Donald Kraybill explains the differences between these and other groups in The Amish Struggle with Modernity.

States where New Order settlements can be found include Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Montana.

February 13, 2007

Not so stuck in time


The Amish and the cell phone?

It's been going on for awhile.

Check the article at Wired.

February 05, 2007

Three sights

...that might mean you're in Amish America.

As you drive around your neck of the woods, it's increasingly likely you might bump into some Amish.  With new settlements starting yearly, and with communities now present in half of the states, you no longer have to go all the way to Lancaster County to run into some Amish.

Here are a few things to look out for that might just mean you've come across an Amish settlement (Disclaimer: Some of these may also indicate Old Order Mennonite or other Plain and related groups):

1) The laundry is out.


No electric means no dryer.  Huge families, relatively small wardrobes, and hard-working, hard-sweating ways keep the Amish housewife constantly washing.  This forces her to keep a keen eye on the sky as well.


2) White house, no shutters.


Amish homes are traditionally white.  In recent years, however, newly -built homes have been spotted in shades of gray and beige.  Some  wealthier settlements now favor building with brick and stone.  Still, white-painted wood or siding is the norm.

The Amish typically do not build homes with shutters. This has to do with their beliefs against ostentatious display—shutters are unnecessary frills. This may vary from settlement to settlement, however, as in certain areas shutters seem to be more acceptable.  In many cases, if you do see an Amish home with shutters on it, it likely was purchased from an English owner. 

In an interesting aside, some Amish do have electricity in their homes and use it, at least temporarily…this fairly uncommon situation happens when an Amish family moves into a previously English-owned home. 

Many church districts allow a ‘grace period’, usually up to a year, for the Amish to remove the electric installations and switch to non-electric. One reason, an Amishman replied to Amish America after flipping the switch one evening, is the cost of changing the installations—he estimated it would run about $10,000 to do his home.   


3) And finally, road hazards (no pic here!)

Locals sometimes get peeved at horses' leave-behinds. Some buggies have ‘catchers’, but still, this form of 'road debris' is often seen, especially on heavily-Amish roads.

As you travel through Amish America, remember to keep an eye out and drive safe.

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