Wendell Berry once pointed out the Amish are the most technologically sophisticated people in the world. They are not opposed to technology per-se, but judge new forms of technology by their utility to the community. For example, they consider cutting edge gene therapies quite useful for curing otherwise fatal childhood diseases; cars, useful only for breaking up the community. As such, the Amish consciously shape technology to their needs rather than let technology (and by extension big business) unconsciously shape their community for them.
Makes sense when you think about it. We should all do that, shouldn’t we?
The problem of course is that after a while the technology changes the culture so much that it becomes impossible to be a full member of society if you still hold out against, say, telephones.
I tried to go without TV and internet for a long time. Eventually the rest of the world caught up with my attitudes towards television and I am no longer weird for not owning one, but living without internet at home became highly impractical when I enrolled in graduate school. Eventually I broke down and got it; I could not function in my grad-school ‘community’ without it.
Nowadays we see the Amish as quaint but it was not always the case: back in the 19th and early 20th century the Amish were just like everyone else, or rather, everyone else was just like the Amish. Their refusal to go along with compulsory education and what we consider basic forms of utilities caused quite a bit of controversy and friction with their non-Amish neighbors who wanted these things, and quite a few Amish folks found themselves in trouble with the law for not sending their kids to school or ignoring building codes. Going against the crowd can get you into trouble.
I know a few Catholic couples who (gasp!) actually take the Church’s teaching on contraceptives seriously. They stick out like sore thumbs not only because they have lots of kids but also because it causes a ripple effect through their lives – first the mother cannot have much of a career outside the house, which makes them poorer than average, and with the dad’s income stretched thinner they have to forgo lots of luxuries like new cars or neat vacations. Now you would think preferring cute little humans to money would be universally applauded, but having a bunch of kids will sometimes draw shockingly rude comments from strangers, especially lonely feminist cat-ladies. It isn’t a bad life, but it must feel weird sometimes.
Technology advances and if we are dumb we just go along, and if we are smart and fearless we will have to make some complex decisions and trade-offs. What if it becomes possible with gene therapy to extend not only one’s life, but also one’s youth for another thirty years, with the average 70-year old passing for forty? What is the utility to man of living that long and staying so young? Will someone who prefers to age and die at a more ‘normal’ rate be considered an oddball? What will people think of a man who does not own a robot sex slave or two? Will a teenager who eschews living in a fantasy world and who prefers to live without the next generation’s version of the Occulus Rift be seen as strange?