Amish Wannabes

Talk about looking out of place. It was a Quaker meeting, and long-time members wearing bright cardigans and tasseled loafers sat next to newcomers who looked like Amish wannabes: They were dressed in plain, dark clothes and broad-brimmed hats. The newcomers had moved to Barnsville, Ohio—the heart of Amish country—because they were concerned that technology was changing their lives for the worse. Among them was 37-year-old Scott Savage. Savage was once a librarian in suburban Cleveland, where his job involved putting the local card catalog on-line. But six years ago Savage became disenchanted with how technology had altered friendships and family life. Savage’s response was dramatic: He abandoned cars, computers, VCRs, the Internet—even wristwatches that go beep-beep-beep. The former librarian now spends his days raising crops and caring for animals. Out went cars, radios, and electric lights. In came buggies, lanterns and sing-a-longs. Savage isn’t the only one with misgivings about technology. Over the past two years, hundreds of people have followed Savage to rural Ohio, attempting to escape the technoscape and revive lost values of community. Some 5,000 people subscribe to Savage’s newsletter, called Plain, which teaches people how to decrease their dependency on technology. Becoming an Amish wannabe is extreme, but Savage and his followers are living out an important principle: that the promises of the Information Age carry a hefty price tag. That price isn’t measured in dollars, but in the ways technology threatens to change our lives. For example, the Savage family jettisoned television and VCRs because they believed sitcoms and videotapes would damage their young daughter’s imagination. And they found that television and computer games diminished their own ability to maintain friendships. As Scott Savage put it, "When you leave television and the computer, you find that you don’t have any real friends." Television and computers don’t replace community, he says, but because of them, people don’t notice community’s absence. Of course, modern technology has brought about many positive changes as well. For example, computers and fax machines have enabled many people to work from home. This allows parents to avoid long commutes to faraway offices and to be available to their children instead of putting them in day care. You and I may not be ready to move to Amish country and exchange our Volvos for horse-drawn buggies. But we, too, need to evaluate all the social consequences of the digital revolution. Information technology will alter not just the workplace, but also the way people interact with one another. The Information Age could weaken what Bill Bennett calls "the character-building institutions": family, church, and community. Two hundred years ago, the rise of the factory system dramatically changed family life, as fathers were torn away to work outside the family circle. One hundred years ago, the invention of the automobile increased mobility and spurred the breakdown of extended families and settled neighborhoods. What changes will the information revolution bring in its wake? And how will Christians respond? I hope you’ll keep reading the rest of this series about the Information Age. You’ll learn more about how technology is changing our culture—and how you can prepare for it.


Chuck Colson



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