Amish get their digital on with Internet newspaper

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AmishMany people believe that the Amish are doctrinally opposed to modern conveniences such as electricity and motor vehicles. In fact, the Amish are for the family, first and foremost, and their choice to pass on using modern conveniences is simply something they feel necessary to avoid influences that tear families apart.

In this light, the Internet is a two-edged blade, offering a way to strengthen community while exposing members to a world of temptations. Now, one of the pillars of the Amish community, the weekly newspaper The Budget, has taken the digital plunge. Will it be accepted?

The Budget, headquartered in Sugarcreek, Ohio, is a compilation of letters and reports from correspondents and readers in enclaves in Lancaster, Pa., Holmes County, OH, southern Indiana and other Amish.

Journalist Jessica Best
recently spent some time with the paper studying the transition. Among the analogies she drew to The Budget was Twitter, in the way that it allows individuals to share the joys and sorrows of their lives on a granular level.

Will we see wide acceptance of The Budget online? I suspect so. The paper serves to knit together a far-flung group, a small minority living a very different life from those around it. This is also one of the Internet's primary virtues. The Amish are also frugal by faith and circumstance, and the cost of printing and distributing a newspaper is significant.

The limits of technology that the Amish are permitted to adopt are set by the local bishop, and vary from area to area. In some groups, buttons are not permitted, and straight pins prevail. Some farmers are permitted to hire a non-Amish person to drive a tractor into a field, where the drive tires can be removed so that belts can be hooked up to drive a band saw, which those Amish are permitted to use. In-home phones aren't permitted, but phone booths along the road are common.

If tech serves to bring the family closer, rather than further apart, don't be surprised to see it show up in the Amish community, no doubt in public settings such as the library. The problem with the Internet is not that it is useful to maintain community or serve as an aid to business. It's Pandora's box and once opened, who knows what will come flying out?

But that can be said of most aspects of modern life, and the Amish seem to be dealing with them just fine to date. The Amish population in the U.S. has grown 84% from 1992 to 2008, to 231,000. That's a lot of buggy power, even in the digital age.

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