Slow geeks

Kevin Kelly, of Wired Magazine and Long Now Foundation fame, has a lengthy piece on his blog exploring the Amish adoption of technology. It wasn’t until we watched the documentary Devil’s Playground a few years back that I was really aware of the Amish approach to selectively adopting new technologies only once they’ve explored their likely social impact and how they fit with their core values. I’m not sure I could convince myself to slow down that much, but it’s a fascinating idea:

The Amish are steadily adopting technology — at their pace. They are slow geeks. As one Amish man told Howard Rheingold, “We don’t want to stop progress, we just want to slow it down,” But their manner of slow adoption is instructive.

  1. They are selective. They know how to say “no” and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ban more than they adopt.
  2. They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory. They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.
  3. They have criteria by which to select choices: technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.
  4. The choices are not individual, but communal. The community shapes and enforces technological direction.

This method works for the Amish, but can it work for the rest of us? I don’t know. It has not really been tried yet. And if the Amish hackers and early adopters teach us anything, it’s that you have to try things first. Try first and relinquish later if need be. We are good at trying first; not good at relinquishing – except as individuals. To fulfill the Amish model we’d have to get better at relinquishing as a group. Social relinquishing. Not merely a large number (as in a movement) but a giving up that relies on mutual support. I have not seen any evidence of that happening, but it would be a telling sign if it did appear.

The whole piece is a good read. You can find it at kk.org.

(via Jason Kottke)

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1 comment

  1. Saw one Amish chap in his horse and trap using the drive in ATM. He had to climb out to use it. In a society where interfaces assume we have opted in can we really pick and choose so easily?