An Amish Approach to Technology

I’ve found, as I get older and wiser, my approach when it comes to deciding whether or not to upgrade my devices is increasingly like that I’ve read of Amish communities.

You see, it is not that the Amish shun modern technology. It’s that they take a very long, mindful, and considered approach as to what technology to adopt, weigh the pros and cons of how it might affect them, their homes, their communities, their way of life and if any of those trade-offs are worth it. Phones, for instance, are fine — as long as they’re not in the home and used only when absolutely necessary. And, if it’s not in any one home, then why not just have one phone in a central location that the whole community can use? So, one can see from this example that really what is at stake with the Amish approach is a question of true value — beyond the material — that every technology must pass and only applied in specific ways in order to be adopted.

Another thing I’ve learned about the Amish is there is also always the question of how a thing can be done as well or better either with an alternative technology or one that is already on hand… Do we need a tractor when we have a horse and plow? The tractor may be easier but what host of troubles does it bring? Then we have to buy gas and parts when it breaks and you can’t hook a buggy up to it and take it into town to sell pies and quilts. Then it’s noisy and disrupts the peace in the community and our neighbors. So, “easier” and “faster” are not things that always trump other considerations for the Amish. These are weighed against other factors equally. Better in one or two ways may be bad in too many others.

This is what has been coming to mind for me as yet another iPhone has been released. I’m still using an iPhone 5 that I, quite reluctantly, “upgraded” to 2.5 years ago. I loved my iPhone 4 but its decreasing battery life and increasing inability to run apps I thought “mattered” to me forced my hand to move up. The iPhone 5 continues to serve me well. That said, battery life and camera performance are my main concerns. I’m aware that upgrading to the iPhone SE would solve both of those in the same, handsome, form factor. That said, there are some thoughts that keep coming up for me…

Upgrading to the SE would mean a change of phone plans and additional cost. You see, when the carriers dropped the subsidized payment model — where you got the phone for “free” with contract — it actually allowed them to raise the price. Now, you either buy the phone outright or make monthly no-interest payments but you still pay the same monthly price for most plans as you used to when you got the phone for free. I’ve priced this out and, basically, what it means for me and my family if we take the monthly no-interest payments route is we will me paying about $40 more per month if both my wife and I upgrade. Kind of a big hike.

If camera and battery life are my main sticking points — if the performance and ways I use it are just fine — then there are other ways I can approach those. I could get a battery case to extend my life or even install a new battery myself — both for less than $30.00. I have a nice, small, lovely camera that I could use for those times when I wish the quality were better. Are there ways I could make it easier to take with me most places? Maybe a nice leather strap to keep it around my neck or a nice pancake lens so it slips easily into a pocket.

My point being that I’m considering all of my options in my considerations. If I have alternative solutions to my two main concerns that are less expensive, in many ways simpler, and solve the problem then why should they not hold considerable weight? Like the Amish, upgrading to something “better” does not always mean it is the best choice and sometimes that means using something that is considered old and outdated to the majority.

Twitter Zen and The Art of Retweet Maintenance

I was feeling overwhelmed every time I opened Twitter but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. Nothing had changed, recently. I hadn’t added more follows — I try to keep that number around 350. The most frequent and active Tweeters I had already relegated to a list called "High Volume". All the companies, sites, and news, etc. were in a list called "Interesting". I have several mute filters in place for the things I don’t care about. I very carefully choose who I follow and regularly evaluate and curate that list. In other words, I thought I had done all of the "right" things but, still, my main timeline felt — well — like it was not mine.

It felt like I threw a party, invited specific people to it, but then all these other people I didn’t know showed up with them. They came and hogged the conversation, ate too much food, and kept me from being able to really hear and talk to the people I invited. Bad uninvited guests.

I was describing the problem to my friend Jason and he reminded me that he wrote up a post a little while back about how he keeps his Twitter sanity. He suggested a few things from it that he thought would help me. His is a very reasoned and well thought out strategy and you should do yourself a favor and take the time to read what he has to say. That said, I wanted to highlight one item in particular that made a HUGE difference for me:

Turn off retweets for everyone you follow the moment you begin following them.

Now, since I had not been doing so before and planned to not add any more followers, I had to turn off retweets from everyone I already followed. This seemed daunting and tedious at first until I realized the better strategy was this; every time someone retweeted something and I saw it in my timeline my next action would be to turn off retweets for the person retweeting. This made the process far more doable and immediately caught the most frequent retweeters. I should mention the interesting part of this choice is that turning off retweets does not turn off "quote" tweets — where the person sharing has something to add. It only eliminates straight no-value-added retweets.

Now, after working on doing this for the past couple of weeks, my main timeline feels like mine again. It’s a party of my invited guests and I’m truly interested in what they have to say.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the general point of a retweet. Sometimes, people just want to share something with no additional comment. The problem is that, if I wanted to hear from those people, what they think, or what they had to say I would follow them. I don’t. I follow who I want to follow and I want to hear what the people I follow have to say and, if they want to share something and have something to add when they share, that’s cool. Because then I’m hearing what they think about what they are sharing.

So, I’m now back to feeling a little less overwhelmed by Twitter largely thanks to this. Hopefully, it will help for a while.

As an aside, I feel like Twitter — much like Facebook — is increasingly a service that requires a bit too much fiddling with to make it useable. It now suffers from the same "go into settings and tweak this and do that and turn these off and download this app and it’ll be OK not great but OK" that Facebook long has. If I didn’t care what my friends were up to and thinking so much it’s hardly be worth the trouble. And, though I have not reached it yet, it is on the verge of becoming such a needy puppy that it won’t be worth it. I have such a complicated and conflicted relationship with it these days.


When it comes to the things I use, especially those I rely on every day, I want to use only things that have been proven as much as possible. Proven to work. Proven to last. Proven over time and use.

This is fairly easy and straight forward to find in the offline world. For instance, I gravitate towards and enjoy using pen and paper because it is proven. As a tool it works, lasts, requires nothing else, has been around for hundreds of years, and is used almost everywhere so is easy to find. Other tools are proven too. Hammers are proven, for example. Nail guns may be a quicker way to drive a nail but require power and have a hundred ways they can fail or break. A hammer always works.

In the online world, it’s a bit more difficult to find things that are proven. Things change quickly. Formats and applications come and go. What’s hot today is gone and unsupported tomorrow in too many cases. Experience has taught me not to rely on many of these things or to be too quick to jump on board new things that come along. They aren’t proven.

Yet, there are some things in the online world that are proven — at least as far as such things can be in the world of technology. Here are two examples: Plaintext and Email. Plaintext (.txt) as a format is proven. It has been around in some form or another since the dawn of modem computing. Email, the basic plaintext form of it, has been around long enough to be considered such. These are things I trust. Things I have used for a long time, work today much the same as they always have, and the chance of continuing to work far into the future is high. Plus, they’re practically universal. Practically everyone who is online has an email address. Practically every computer can open a plaintext file.

This doesn’t mean I won’t use things that aren’t proven. I will and sometimes do. But I don’t place my faith or trust in them until they are proven. I don’t pretend they will be around forever and I always have an escape plan for when they inevitably go away. I don’t go all in on a new thing, especially if it means abandoning something proven.

So, when people ask me why I love and prefer email over [Insert latest email killer here] it’s because email is proven. It’s why I don’t use the latest note taking app or word processor. It’s why you won’t find me hoping on the latest new social thingamajig or chatting whatnot or blogging whozit. And while I watch those things come and go and their users jump on and off them, I’ll still be here using the same proven tools I have for-what-might-as-well-be-ever and getting the things I want to do done.

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