Don't you just love the religion beat? I have never understood the complaint that religion news is boring territory. It seems like every time I turn around this beat serves of some new and fascinating twist, often with either joyful or distressing overtones. Do you remember the whole Y2K media apocalypse? I was living in Maryland at the time and was surprised to find out that, up in Amish territory, there were communities with Y2K committees. Why would the Amish need Y2K committees? Well, what would happen to the sale of handmade quilts if Gentile stores that cooperated with the Amish had computer crashes that affected their charge-card systems?
Life is complex, even for the Amish.
So this brings us to the following story offered by The Atlantic. Here's the top of the Rebecca Greenfield post, under the headline, "Would the Amish Use This Hand-Cranked Laptop?"
The non-profit One Laptop Per Child has engineered laptops for the world's computerless masses. Given that billions of people don't have electricity, OLPC has designed laptops that can operate off-the-grid, perfect for Rwandan cities, aboriginal Canadian settlements -- and Amish colonies.
The Amish live in a constellation of agrarian spots in the northern United States and they're famous for their opposition to some modern technologies, specifically high-voltage electricity. But like many religious close-knit religious communities, they tend to pick and choose which specific products to adopt. If the Amish could have the computer without the electricity, would they use them?
The answer, basically, is yes.
Now is the issue the computer with the crank or whether it is used to put Amish believers "on the grid" of the modern world?
What if the computer was simply used to help the Amish run their own businesses? On their own, in their separate flesh-and-blood networks? Thus, the story notes:
The flyer's creator knew his audience. Unlike ads for the new Apple product of the moment, this downplays the computer's tech touting it as "just a workhorse for your business." It would provide "unequaled safety" because it had "no modem, no phone port or Internet connection, no outside programs, no sound, no pictures, no games or gimmicks."
As new technologies emerge, the Amish weigh their utility against their danger.
The key word is "safety." The safety of what? The community of believers, of course. That raises serious issues, some of which will hit close to home for anyone with young children who at times seem to be hardwired into, well, the modern world. Oh wait, there are cell towers and wifi hot spots.
Like I said, the Godbeat keeps serving up twists. Enjoy.