Amish Hackers (2009)


109 points | by newswasboring 286 days ago


  • rkagerer 285 days ago

    My dad spends his summers near an Amish settlement. By settlement, I mean vast tracts of land with several farms. He buys most of his eggs, fruits, vegetables, etc. from them. They sell goods at a local farmers market, and when "organic" and "free range" became a fad, these guys put a giant photo in front of their stall of their chickens frolicking in huge paddocks with the words "FREE RANGE" below it - doesn't get more authentic than that.

    He's gotten pretty friendly with them over the years. When we bring friends along to their farms to pick up goods, they're always shocked how contemporary these guys are.

    One of them has a pretty sophisticated machine shop, with tools like drill presses, saws, sanding belts, etc. all driven by a series of axles forming a mechanical drivetrain that snakes throughout the barn (eventually to a very old diesel motor).

    A couple of the young men came out to frame a house he's building. Once on a day off, they arrived by carriage and brought a pair of young Amish ladies with them to hang out at the beach. The next day, my dad found one of the girl's leggings left behind. He was discreet enough to return it to the girl's younger brother, instead of her dad.

    All the kids know how to use iPhones - they sometimes ask to borrow his so they can make a call.

    One of the more technically inclined gentleman even showed up one day with a cutting-edge drone, and had a blast flying it around with my dad. He made it very clear his wife isn't allowed to know he owns it! Last I heard that same guy is helping plan a solar array my dad wants to install to go off-grid.

    • flycaliguy 285 days ago

      Maybe the wife isn’t allowed to know about the drone because she’s currently cleaning his dirty underwear by hand?

      • zdragnar 285 days ago

        Our local community of Amish have on-farm stores for tourists and locals. They were run almost exclusively by the women.

        Slandering an entire group of people out of ignorance is a habit we should work to break away from, not reinforce.

        • teachrdan 285 days ago

          I don't take the point as slander. It's that, while the husband goes against Amish convention by using modern technology to have fun, the wife is stuck at home using dated technology to expend time and energy cleaning up after him.

          In other words, it's easy for the husband to sneak a drone among his belongings to have fun. It's impossible for his wife to sneak a washing machine among hers to make her life less difficult.

          • chrisco255 285 days ago

            You're making a ton of assumptions about a guy and his wife. The whole point of the Amish life style is to make life a bit more difficult. The trade-off is that everyone in the community feels more needed and is bound closer together by sharing work load. Sneaking in occasional uses of modern technology doesn't defeat the purpose.

            • Loughla 285 days ago

              You're missing the point of OP. Traditionally, it is easier for men to be independent in the Amish community. Therefore, it is easier for the man to have something like a drone he can hide than it is for the wife to have anything at all similar.

              And like it or don't, much of the outcome of the Amish lifestyle, regardless of the point of it, is an absolutely awful power dynamic based on gender.

            • teachrdan 285 days ago

              I'm upvoting your comment because I think it's important, and in fact I mostly agree with it. The shared commitment to Amish principles is obviously central to the project of maintaining and continuing an Amish way of life.

              Having said that, what we see in the example above is a classic example of game theory. The husband is the defector and benefits as a result.

              Is this an assumption? Of course! Perhaps his wife is playing Smash Bros on a secret Nintendo Switch while her husband is piloting his drone. But the fact remains that there's a lot of technology--specifically washing machines, dishwashers and the like--forbidden by Amish rules that could make her household chores (which she is obligated to do by her gender) much easier.

              • chrisco255 285 days ago

                Well sure, and a John Deere tractor would make farming a lot easier. A power saw would make wood working much easier. That's true across the spectrum of work that the Amish do.

        • titanomachy 285 days ago

          Good point, I wonder if they are also slow to adopt social trends. If they're 50 years behind in technology, does that mean they're also just starting to consider women's liberation? The author seemed to interact only with men. Are the bishops who decide what technology to adopt also all men?

          • NotSammyHagar 285 days ago

            Great points, it's virtually guaranteed that as in many other religious groups there is a notion of "protecting" women by taking such decisions away from them or restricting them from various roles. The southern baptist church in the us remains inordinately focused on limiting women's roles. Women shouldn't be priests, in some places they allow them, other places look askance at that.

            • heartbeats 285 days ago

              That is just a matter of basic theological fidelity; the matter is spelled out very clearly in the Bible[0]. You can't just pick and mix which parts of it you'd like to selectively ignore and claim it's 'up to interpretation'.

              [0] Timothy 2:11-12

              • lozaning 285 days ago

                And yet I dont know of a single Christian that follows the rules against wearing blended material garments laid out in Leviticus 19:19.

                My parents are Deacons in their local church, and believe you me, they pick and choose which parts to interpret as allegory and which parts to interpret literally all the time.

                • mattr47 285 days ago

                  That is part of the ritual law, something a follower/disciple of Jesus is not required to do. In fact as a follower of Jesus there are no rules other than 2. Love God and love others. Everything else flows from that as far as the instruction gave like Jesus did in his Sermon on the Mount.

                  Someone who has said, hey I declare that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and truly believes it will of course do things. Not because they have to, but because they want to.

                • dang 285 days ago

                  Please don't take HN threads into religious flamewar. We don't need to go to that hell here.


                  • heartbeats 285 days ago

                    If so, it is the parent who ought to be flagged, not my comment.

                    I have not introduced a flamewar topic, nor was it an unrelated controversy or a generic tangent. The Christian concern over female priests common in the American South is not "inordinate," that was what I was responding to.

                  • hobs 285 days ago

                    Oh please, then how do we have different sects of Christianity?

                    • heartbeats 285 days ago

                      Some of the rules are rather vague, to the point where two reasonable-minded people could reach two different conclusions. The parts about female ordination are, to put it bluntly, not.

                    • pinkfoot 285 days ago

                      Then Ephesians 6:5-8 and Colossians 3:22 telling slaves to obey their masters is going to be a doozie to implement and defend.

                      • heartbeats 285 days ago

                        Slavery as practiced in the ancient world was not the same institution as the chattel slavery in the European colonies, which is an entirely different moral gray area. It was more akin to our modern employment relationships if anything. And the following sounds like a reasonable expression of Christian morality, does it not?:

                        > 22 Employees, in all things obey those who are your employers on earth [lit. according to the flesh], not with external service [lit. eyeservice], as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.


                  • starpilot 285 days ago

                    Abuse of women, including rape, is widespread and suppressed among the Amish:

                    Anything critical of the Amish is being downvoted in this thread because it conflicts with the happy, quaint narrative HNers desperately wish to believe.

              • rossdavidh 285 days ago

                I am reminded of how much more difficult it would be to drive a car, if you had no Reverse gear. Our society, generally, has only every once in a great while successfully reversed on a technology. This means that we have to either ban it proactively, which requires us to be able to predict its consequences, or else adopt it and hope for the best.

                The Amish subculture seems to have a functional reverse gear, allowing them to try out a technology and then decide not to allow it after all. It would be a good feature to have, for our society more generally.

                • tapland 285 days ago

                  If you look around there are hacks and DIY solutions to problems everywhere!

                  No matter the hobby or location you can be sure that space had hackers and tinkers. Some really cool hacks come out of restrictions and lack of money for what we would consider 'proper' solutions, and each technology however analogue will be a space with its own hackers.

                  I really enjoy writeups like this of ingenious solutions to problems I will never face. Growing up having friends living on old farms far away from villages or towns I got to see some crazy contraptions, my favorites of which were probably various uses of streams (of water) for mechanical work.

                  • elliekelly 285 days ago

                    I traveled to Cuba in 2012 as part of a research trip and seeing all the ways people have managed to hack together fixes for everything was perhaps the most incredible part of the experience. The embargo makes it difficult for Cubans to get a lot of things we take for granted but the Cuban people are perhaps the most inventive I've ever met. Living under the sanctions for decades has made creative problem solving a part of their culture.

                  • roland35 285 days ago

                    Amish are certainly an interesting group and I have a lot of respect for their work ethic! I recently had an Amish crew reside my house and they showed up every day with their driver at 6am! I am not sure how long the commute was but we live about an hour from Amish country.

                    They also had a young boy, maybe 12-14 years old, apprenticing with them. I believe Amish only need to do K-8 school and then they start their careers.

                    • not_buying_it 285 days ago

                      The Amish are extremely honest people in my experience. The ones I have met selling homemade goods and foods are fastidious about not charging for old food (e.g. 2 day old bread is free) regardless of whether it is still good and could be sold. I think the work ethic ties in with this, they see hard work as the only honest path in some way I think. In either case, it makes them some of the best handymen and construction workers:)

                      • starpilot 285 days ago
                        • NotSammyHagar 285 days ago

                          Oh my god, that's so horrifying. If you are in an insular community the idea that you want to hide abuse because it makes the group look bad, that's the same thinking that lead to decades of widespread abuse by priests in the catholic church. In america especially we have a blind eye toward the behavior of religious groups. There are other religious groups in america that have these self-reinforcing "the only way to be in the world is with us" behaviors. I'm sure there are also lots of decent people who are Amish too (probably doesn't need to be stated, there are decent people everywhere and in every group).

                          Blind allegiance to a group leads to endemic corruption, always has, always will.

                    • tewarbit 285 days ago

                      "They often don’t have logical reasons for their policies" ...goes on to explain the logical reasons for why certain Amish communities refuse to use automobiles, closed carriages, etc.

                      • yboris 285 days ago

                        I have read that the Amish make explicit decisions about whether to accept a certain technology into their communities.

                        A specific example was about technology that saved many hours of simple/light mechanical work for women: as a result, it eliminated the communal practice for women to be together in a large room talking while doing it. The technology was tried but then removed, as the result was less communal engagement.

                        To oversimplify: we default to using whatever comes up (Facebook, etc), whereas their approach is to evaluate the new thing as a community and decide.

                        • NotSammyHagar 285 days ago

                          Intentional choices about aspects of society are an interesting thing to consider. But who is making those choices? I doubt women's views were predominant. My grandparents told me of their life on a farm without electricity and the drudgery of life that was vastly reduced with a dish washing and washing machine for clothes.

                          • pandesmos 285 days ago

                            That is really interesting and echoes some of what Camille Paglia has to say about washing in Italian immigrant communities. Do you have the source handy? I’d love to check it out.

                            • yboris 285 days ago

                              It was The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being by Daniel M. Haybron


                              I read numerous books on topic of Positive Psychology ... a really good academic one, tying together the field into a unifying framework is: The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychology of Well-Being by Michael A. Bishop

                          • flyinghamster 285 days ago

                            I'd read that as "not logical to an outsider" rather than "no logic to it."

                            • ryanmercer 285 days ago

                              Amish communities vary wildly on what is acceptable from community to community which can include trivial things like colors and cuts of garments, phone usage/location, type of carriage/buggy features, and what level of mechanization is tolerated. It rarely has a logical reason beyond "this is the way" and is generally dictated by the elders of that specific community. The differences also extend to things like the conditions they'll let a member formerly in good standing return and courtship customs.

                              If you read Ira Wagler's book Growing Up Amish, he covers some of this as his family (and him alone) moved around various Amish communities in North America.

                              • dmtroyer 285 days ago

                                I think they meant to say something more along the lines of "their policies often seem illogical to outsiders."

                              • krm01 285 days ago

                                It's unfortunate that somehow, I just read an awesome article on (amish) hackers and technology, but leave the page only remembering the spambot comments at the bottom. Kevin (and other bloggers who have the same problem), if you read this, please disable comments in your posts. They provide hardly any value and just ruin the experience.

                                • PaulDavisThe1st 285 days ago

                                  You should have kept reading. Right after the initial spambot comments, there were some really deep and useful comments from members/neighbors of Amish and Mennonite communities.

                                  • raxxorrax 285 days ago

                                    Personally I don't think so. I like to read some feedback too, like in this thread. Haven't read them all, but didn't really noticed spam. There is an option to just ignore them.

                                    To the article:

                                    > This method works for the Amish, but can it work for the rest of us?

                                    I don't think that it would. Neither is there a community to enforce the rules, nor would it be able to scale. I think the author agrees between the lines or at least has serious doubt.

                                  • laszlokorte 285 days ago

                                    Would be cool to see a whole free open source digital computing/communication platform of selfmade hardware and software built be the amish.

                                    • cat199 285 days ago

                                      Every time I think about Amish & technology I'm reminded of the Capability Maturity Model:


                                      1) Initial (chaotic, ad hoc, individual heroics) - the starting point for use of a new or undocumented repeat process.

                                      2) Repeatable - the process is at least documented sufficiently such that repeating the same steps may be attempted.

                                      3) Defined - the process is defined/confirmed as a standard business process

                                      4) Capable - the process is quantitatively managed in accordance with agreed-upon metrics.

                                      5) Efficient - process management includes deliberate process optimization/improvement.

                                      Amish tech processes seem to me higher up the chain than most people, so from this point of view, they are actually more advanced..

                                      • blaser-waffle 285 days ago

                                        I think it's more like they're willing to outsource / be late adopters, so that when they're seriously thinking about a technology it's already on Stage 4 or 5

                                      • flyinghamster 285 days ago

                                        To some extent, I have a similar attitude about technology, though I draw the lines far differently than the Amish. I was a latecomer to smartphones, and even though I use one for a variety of purposes, I don't spend all day with my face buried in it - and I'm very picky about what apps I'll install. Facebook? Instagram? Hell no.

                                        Back in my twenties, I started noticing that there really wasn't much on TV that I wanted to watch, and so never got around to subscribing to cable. To me, in the intervening years, TV has only become worse. My TV set spends most of its time as a large monitor.

                                        • LeonM 285 days ago

                                          > Back in my twenties, I started noticing that there really wasn't much on TV that I wanted to watch, and so never got around to subscribing to cable. To me, in the intervening years, TV has only become worse. My TV set spends most of its time as a large monitor.

                                          Same here. I grew up with television, but once I got my first own apartment I never bothered to get a cable subscription. I have a TV in my living room, but I consider it as a monitor for my game console and chromecast.

                                          The first thing people ask me when they hear I don't have a cable subscription is usually: how do you watch the news then? The answer is simple: Except for stuff that interests me (tech mostly) I do not read, watch or listen the generic news. Most news is depressing anyways, and you really don't miss out on anything imo.

                                          • peckrob 285 days ago

                                            We cancelled our cable subscription after our daughter was born. We just weren't watching enough to justify a $240 a month cable bill. That bill went to $60 when we switched to Internet-only.

                                            In the meantime, I put an antenna in the attic and wired it to all the TVs in the house. Primarily this was to pick up local stations because I live in an area prone to severe weather, but we ended up getting something like 30 over the air channels. Some of them are low-power (primarily religious) stations that we never watch, but we get all the majors (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, CW) and a bunch more on sub-channels. I was pretty surprised by how much could get for free with just an antenna.

                                            Between that and Netflix, Hulu, and (now) Disney Plus, we are never short of things to watch and still get the local news when we need that coverage.

                                            • bluGill 285 days ago

                                              What I miss the most is local news. If something happens in Italy (pick a random country that is far away from my US home) that matters to me I will hear about it. However if something happens on my block I am unlikely to hear about it because things that close to home matter even when they are well below insignificant on the scale of national (or even state level) news.

                                              Note that news shows cover a much larger area than my neighborhood and wouldn't give me that anyway. What I need most is a local newspaper with a small circulation.

                                              • jermaustin1 285 days ago

                                                This is why I pay for a couple of my local "papers". Thankfully I live in a section of New York (Halfway between Poughkeepsie and Peekskill) with loads of them. I'm sure a lot of mediumly populated places have at least one. Even my town of 600 has it's own paper - that I don't subscribe to because they distribute them to most of the shops in town.

                                                Even if they have a political slant (which (a lot|most|all) of them do), it's easy to ignore that coverage and focus on the truly local news. Also, tons of local gossip.

                                              • ryanmercer 285 days ago

                                                >I do not read, watch or listen the generic news. Most news is depressing anyways, and you really don't miss out on anything imo.

                                                This. I stopped actively following news around the time the iPhone 3GS came out and within a month or two I was far happier in general.

                                                Around the time iPhone 6 came out I was using flipboard on an iPad nightly for a few weeks, found it pretty miserable and quit again.

                                                Now I will look at my Google news recommendations on my phone once or twice a day for the first few articles, rarely doing more than scanning the headlines. These articles are almost always of interest to me as I will tell it I don't want to see these kinds of articles when it puts garbage in there so it's mostly NASA and SpaceX news which I'll hear about on a few podcasts I listen to anyway. Aside from that my news is limited to a story or two on the Adam Carolla podcast each weekday, whatever I see on HN on weekdays and whatever gets sent to me via SMS.

                                                Right now I'm currently checking /r/China_flu every day because I work in international freight and we're already feeling the virus in our volume due to Chinese freight slowing but once the virus starts to decline I'll stop.

                                                • jsmonkey 284 days ago

                                                  Similar experiences here. I was a news addict for most of my youth. The general knowledge I gained that way sure helped me to ace college exams, but that's about it as far as benefits go.

                                                  All the negativity in news was definitely bad for my mental health. Constantly checking out news was also a giant waste of time - time that could have been spent on self-development, or something that makes me happy. Now I've blocked all news sites of my country on all my devices, and I definitely feel much better. Checking out or whatever once a day is enough.

                                            • dang 285 days ago
                                              • heartbeats 285 days ago

                                                > My impression is that the Amish are living about 50 years behind us. They don’t adopt everything new but what new technology they do embrace, they take up about half a century after everyone else does. By that time, the benefits and costs are clear, the technology stable, and it is cheap.

                                                Yeah, this is definitely a sensible approach to doing things. They get most of the benefits of modernity, but few of the downsides. I wish our regulators would do the same.

                                                quasi-relevant xkcd:

                                                • zwieback 285 days ago

                                                  Nice - learned something today. Before reading this article everything I knew about the Amish was from the movie Witness.

                                                • durpleDrank 285 days ago

                                                  The comment section of the article is filled with funny bot spam, worth a glance for a chuckle. Guys advertising "whatsapp hacking" services with a "customer" replying to the ad vouching for them.

                                                  • rhoyerboat 285 days ago

                                                    those people are abusing disqus across practically every site that uses it which ive visited in recent memory. wish they could get a handle on it, its a pretty useful plugin except for the apparent shitpot security. maybe its up to site moderators and they don't do the work, maybe the disqus audience is particularly vulnerable to soc.eng .. w/e, bummer.

                                                    • KajMagnus 284 days ago

                                                      Seems as if unapproved comments got auto hidden after a few days or a week, all that spam would disappear?

                                                      There are real comments too, though, starting from 8 years ago: "I can't say that I would ever manage to live like this, but I applaud their motivations behind it. // ... Why they don’t use automobiles ... // Actually, some do. ... Local church elders basically determine what is acceptable ..."

                                                  • PaulDavisThe1st 285 days ago

                                                    Title should note that the article is from 2009.

                                                    • dang 285 days ago

                                                      Added. Thanks!

                                                    • The_mboga_real 285 days ago

                                                      Dagger carrying folk. You, sir, are a genius!

                                                      • starpilot 285 days ago

                                                        Before we get cutesy about the Amish, let us be aware that there is an epidemic of rape and abuse toward women that is largely unchallenged:

                                                        • A4ET8a8uTh0 285 days ago

                                                          Uhh, do you divert every conversation to the worst aspect of any group? Do you default to talking about Indians when discussing Americans as a whole?

                                                          Why can't we just discuss 'cutesy' aspects?

                                                          • Chris2048 280 days ago

                                                            Are you implying that "Indians" are the worst aspect of "Americans"?

                                                          • BenjiWiebe 285 days ago

                                                            You kept bringing up this comment... Let me remind you that "the Amish" is actually a very broad umbrella term. There are Amish who drive vehicles, Amish who only drive tractors, and Amish that only use horse and buggy, in one small area in Kansas (which is far from an Amish hotspot). There's at least that much variety other places as well.