Amish Country is Science Fictional

IMG_4175, originally uploaded by dynamicsubspace.

If we adopt the definition that science fiction is the narrative genre that has science and technology as its necessary and sufficient conditions, then we can view the Amish way of life as science fiction. The Amish restrictions on the use of modern technology is a turning away from the science and technology that most of us make use of on a daily basis. However, their turning away from science and technology is an interesting “what if” played out through their lives each day. They live amongst us, the technoscientific folk, and yet they maintain technology at arm’s length.

Recently when Y, my folks, and I visited Kidron, Ohio and Lehman’s Hardware, a store specializing in non-electrical appliances and tools, I felt like an anthropologist landing on another planet in my spaceship (which coincidentally was my parent’s Ford Explorer). The obvious association is that we, the technoscientific folk, are the science fictional people. We live science fiction everyday as we receive, use, and change the technology that makes modern life possible, but I believe that we can reverse this and see the Amish as the truly science fictional people. They stand apart from the technoscientific world, not totally divorced from it–no one on Earth could be–, but they are as much as one can be outside looking in. What do the Amish think of the world that we share? Do any Amish read science fiction? Would they think of the world as science fiction or merely a strange phantasm passing around them that they do not wish to linger on?

Also, the interesting thing about the Amish is Lehman’s Hardware. It does sell non-electrical goods, but a large majority of the things sold in its warehouse were made through modern industrial techniques and shipped from far away places (much from China) to Kidron. The store itself is largely lit with energy efficient CFLs, and it is wired for music and other department store amenities such as telephones, PAs, etc. The Amish of Kidron go there to buy or browse even though they themselves do not embrace technology as directly or emphatically as we non-Amish do. However, their lives are dependent on modern technology either through the world around them, national defense, supply chain management for goods they purchase, the production of goods that they purchase to augment what their communities produce by hand, etc.

Nevertheless, I wish that I could be Amish for a day so that I could gain their perspective on our world. I believe it would be a brilliantly enlightening experience.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.