The Amish, for listeners that don’t know, are a group of religiously bent people, heritage out of Northern Europe, who are seen as being anti-technological but actually are just behind. They’re just later than us. And the canonical vision of the Amish are a community who don’t have electricity, who do things without much technology. But in fact, the story is a little bit more complicated than that. They’re changing all the time. They’re in the process of always evaluating the technologies. And it’s that process that I found most interesting. I was really very, very curious about how the Amish decided what they were going to use and what they weren’t.
And they’re not that much different than most of us, because most of us are at the point where we can’t use all technologies. There’s just too many. So we make decisions. And from the outside, our decisions look kind of crazy, irrational. OK, so I have state-of-the-art internet, but we don’t have TV. It’s like someone said — that doesn’t make any sense. [laughs] No, it doesn’t make any sense. And the Amish will have — they’ll have no cars and no bicycles, but they’ll have skateboards. They don’t have zippers, but they have disposable diapers. You kind of look, and you say, “What’s the strategy? What’s the theory there?”
Well, the theory is, very simply, that unlike most Americans — we’re individualistic, so we decide individually what we’re going to do or not going to do. We’re gonna use email, but we’re not gonna use Facebook. But the Amish are different in this way, in that they decide collectively.
And here’s what the criteria that the Amish use implicitly, to decide whether they’re going to adopt a technology. And the criteria are basically two things. One is, will this technology strengthen my family, increase my family? So the Amish, their ideal is to have every meal with their children until they leave. They want to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day with their children. And then the second one is very similar, which is, does it strengthen the community? How much time does it bring them and keep them in the community? So the reason why they have horses instead of cars is because the horse can only go 15 miles away, so they have to go shopping, go to church, go to visit, all within 15 miles. That forces them to pay attention, to support their local neighborhood, their community. And so when they’re looking at new technology — like, they say, LEDs or whatever — does it help them do that, or does it not? So they’re not rejecting technology. They’re saying: We want technology that serves our purposes.
And the way that they do this is also interesting, is — they don’t think about the technologies. They have Amish early adopters. And these are guys, usually, in any community, who are eager to try new things. And they have to get permission from the bishop. And so the bishop will say, “OK, Ivan, yeah, you can have a cellphone in your truck for work.” And so, for the next year, they watch — his community watches Ivan to see how that affects his family, his community, his work, and if they don’t think that it’s a positive, then he has to give it up. So it’s a community decision.
Kevin Kelly, “On Being with Krista Tippett (podcast)”
“The art of flying is a short film about “murmurations”: the mysterious flights of the Common Starling. It is still unknown how the thousands of birds are able to fly in such dense swarms without colliding. Every night the starlings gather at dusk to perform their stunning air show. Because of the relatively warm winter of 2014/2015, the starlings stayed in the Netherlands instead of migrating southwards. This gave filmmaker Jan van IJken the opportunity to film one of the most spectacular and amazing natural phenomena on earth.”
But Berlin and Kay found a further surprising result. The order in which basic color categories enter languages is not arbitrary either. If a language has only two colors—and all languages have at least two—they are always white and black; if a language has three colors, the one added is red; if a fourth is added, it will be either green or yellow; when a fifth is added, it will then include both green and yellow; the sixth added is blue; the seventh added is brown; and if an eight or more terms are added, it or they will be purple, pink, orange, or gray. Considerable subsequent research on color classification has necessitated modifications in this sequence, yet basic color terms apparently evolve in a largely universal pattern (Witkowski and Brown 1978). Berlin and Kat (1969:159) dismiss “extreme linguistic-cultural relativism”, at least with respect to basic color term, as a “myth created by linguists and anthropologists”.
Donald E. Brown. Human Universals. McGraw-Hill. 1991.