"Consumption and Dispersion" - David Nye; "Why Not Electricity?" - S. Scott & K. Pellman


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I would not have guessed that the Amish people are as open to modern technological trends as the “Why not Electricity?” reading suggests. The fact that most Amish communities don’t ban battery-operated devices or generators is actually pretty surprising to me. I suppose that’s because the Amish faith is less about shunning fancy things like electricity and more about preserving older ideals of faith and community. Even more surprising to me was the fact that Amish people modify and adapt mainstream technologies to fit within their requirements. Reworking electric home appliances to run on gasoline or farm machinery to work with horses is very ingenious for a group usually painted as resistant to all forms of change. Reading about the Amish makes me think about if our modern lifestyle now will be emulated by an Amish equivalent many years in the distant future. Will we humans advance our technology so far forward that that people will yearn to return to the old ways of things and emulate our culture? Will we long for the days when smartphones could only make calls, send text messages, use apps and connect to the internet?

I enjoyed the readings for this week. I was struck at the difference in pace between the two chapters -- Nye flew through the effects of the development of electricity at large, while Scott dispelled some misconceptions about how the Amish are able to maintain or adapt their way of life to these changes.

Nye brings to light how electricity facilitated the consumption of popular culture, at such a speed that "yesterday's luxury became today's necessity" (162). I found it dizzying heading how much of an impact electricity had on our consumption of goods, like clothes, and how it shaped the way society saw an individual or class division. (Eg. Thorstein's term "pecuniary decency".) And yet, electricity was able to connect and create an easily accessible network, like with trolleys and streetcars, which allowed different social classes to go about their day to day lives in the same area.

In contrast, we have the Amish, who attest that machines prevent a sense of community from forming. I used to live close by an Amish market, and every Wednesday they would drive in from Lancaster County with food they produced and furniture they constructed. I thought that trucks would be considered breeching connections to electricity, but maybe this is their major means of "taking part in the larger economic system" (10). Some of us desire this way of life, to cut away from what is over simulating us, like with camping. Would the Amish accept an outsider to live with them, so long as they never left again? Or would they consider that outsider to be a connection that they seek to avoid?

The David Nye reading had my mind wandering in so many different directions. I have often wondered and thought about life before electricity or during the electrification boom. This article lays out so many things that began to change as soon as electricity was on the scene. The way people dressed changed, entertainment changed, communication changed, and business changed. I can try to imagine life in the primitive stages of electricity, but that's just it; I can only imagine. Very few people today (well except the Amish or other strict religious entity) can relate to what life was like before this craze.

I have had the privilege of talking with someone who does remember, however. My husband's grandmother Helvie is 92 years old. She did not have electricity in her home until she was in her teens in the 30's. She told us stories the last time we visited her about what it was like without electricity. She said she remembered the lamps her father used to light. She also talked about how electricity came along and changed life completely. Helvie stared at her TV while telling us how much she hates TV. She said when the television came into homes it ruined family time because nobody talked anymore. Her own TV now only gets turned on and watched when grandchildren are over or one of her sons wants to watch football. Most of us look at technology as a great thing (usually) and we highly enjoy our TV shows, Netflicks, and DVD players. People from Helvie's generation might view these things quite differently though. They may actually resent these things for changing the way they knew family life to be.

Helvie's mind is suffering greatly due to dementia, and she doesn't remember most of her own family anymore and she has no clue how many grandkids/great grandkids she has (which is near 30 I think). But what she does remember are these very old memories about electricity coming into her home. It must have been a profound thing in peoples lives, so profound that it stays with them even when their mind does not.


While reading the article entitled "Consumption and Dispersion", I found it interesting to read of some of the reactions people expressed when a new technology was first introduced to society or when new social trends were emerging. For instance when women began replacing their small, plain styled-wardrobe with many fashionable and elaborate dresses, Nye reports that one individual was concerned that this change in mentality was “fatal to social progress”. Of course, today one does not think twice about owning more than just the necessary number of clothing articles or whether they are too extravagant for everyday wear.

I find it difficult to imagine life without electricity. My life, as I’m sure many others would agree, would be starkly different without electricity. One aspect of my life that would be altered without electricity would be my job. I work nights at a local group home as a home health aide. Without electricity the only source of light would be candles which would make it very difficult to perform necessary cares during the night for the people that I take care of. While the loss of electricity would serve as an inconvenience to me, it would impact the people that I care for in a much more superior way. While I would be able to live without electricity, many of the people that I take care of could not. Oximeters, feeding pumps, and respirators are just a few of the necessary equipment that requires electricity to operate that is needed by the residents on a daily basis to sustain life. This gives me perspective on how transformative electricity can be in people’s lives.


The two readings for today make a nice pair. I read the article on the Amish first. It was a good primer on the Amish approach to technology, including the motivation they have for being apprehensive to new technologies or those that may connect them to the outside world. That radio and television carry messages with undesirable values is a clear concern for the Amish, a less obvious consequence of technology is detailed by Nye. As energy and available leisure time increased people began spending their time and money more frivolously. In the case of shopping, the status that a product conferred could be as desirable as the function of the product itself. The general trend sees society moving away from tradition and community and toward self-gratification and consumerism. He writes that immigrants to America might quickly adapt and favor the new culture, sometimes abandoning their old traditions. They might altogether reject their origins; he writes that some Jewish immigrants detested the homemade garments they’d strip away for American clothing. Reading Nye’s work, it makes clear the concern the Amish would with the consequence of greater ties to the technology and culture of society. Entrenchment with technology and the consumerism it enables often uproots traditional values.

The Scott article made me think of the Amish as other average American communities, but just on a smaller scale and moving in super slow motion. I think back to the Nye chapter on the struggle to excite the general public about railroads. Water travel was natural and normal, and overland travel is just too strange—it'll make everything move too fast parallels nicely with internal combustion is symbolic of separation and dispersion of community, animal husbandry represents interdependence and binds us together. I wonder if any Amish communities will ever adopt automobiles or tractors. I know that plenty of Amish people use vehicles regularly... it seems a small leap to ownership and operation (Relevant).

The Nye article made me think about the underlying presumptions of conventional wisdom. I admit that I've fallen into the trap of blaming large enterprises for manipulating the culture for their own ends. When I think about it, though, I find the idea of external actors manipulating the masses into consuming to be a classist idea. I've studied class relations in the past and mention resistance to the institutions of elites an awful lot, but I never compared turn of the century attempts by the American social elite to reform lowly proles with contemporary corporate-manipulation stories we like to tell. Of course it's ridiculous to believe that our “social betters” know any better than we do how is best to live life. Of course the belief that imposing their values on the rest of us would effectively change behaviors is basically the dumbest thing ever. If those things are so obviously wrong in retrospect, why would we think that General Electric and Proctor & Gamble will have any more luck coercing us into their preferred mold than did the George Pullmans of the late 1800s?

If the above is true (we consume because we want to, not because we're tricked into it), and if David Reisman is also correct about consumption being closely tied to culture and acceptance, it really explains the zeal that Americans have toward consuming. We hopped into a feedback loop in which we want to consume because we're all consuming because we want to consume because everyone is consuming.

That isn't to say that organizations with a vested interest didn't benefit from all this and invest a lot of effort in artificially trying to get us to consume more of the right things (“right” meaning “whatever they were selling”). They totally did: Nye's discussion of Fitzgerald and mention of the rise of advertising, plus the groundbreaking use of psychology to get us to buy stuff prove that it's happened and it continues to happen. But its not as if we aren't also participating. Maybe we want all this attention, and maybe we want it more now than ever before in our everyone's-a-snowflake postmodern world.

The article “Why Not Electricity” was an informative read. I’ve always assumed that most Amish communities avoid change as much as possible. In reality, though, most Amish communities accept change in many ways, and realize that some things need to change in order to keep up with the economy as a whole. They don’t reject electricity as a whole, but widely believe that some forms of electricity (like cars or computers) can lead to immoral behavior, or unnecessary temptations. Like we discussed in class during our “automobiles” section, many of us looked forward to getting our driver’s license because of the freedom it would give us, and that may be a major reason in why the Amish refuse to accept automobiles in their culture. But while many forms of technology or electricity could be considered a luxury, some can also be seen as a necessity in keeping up in the modern world. This has led to some Amish communities using gas-powered generators in their working profession in order to make a decent living; meanwhile, some other Amish communities that refuse to use the benefits of electricity in work have to accept living life on a lower budget.


After reading "Why Not Electricity" a few thoughts came through my mind. I think the amish have great values and reasoning behind their lack of technology. Making decisions based on what is best for the community and will make everyone become closer as opposed to doing the most convenient and progressive thing is a goody idea. Although, I respect their ideals I cannot help but wonder how one can get along in this world without electricity and new technologies. Our society has become so dependent on technology that if you don't have it not only will you be an outcast, but I cannot imagine how you could function. I mean how far can a horse and buggy really get you in certain cities or how can you live without heat and air conditioning in any area. I found the part about the battery operated calculators hilarious. In elementary school, middle school, and high school you need a calculator for almost every math or science class you take I cannot imagine being left without one. And to once use them and have them taken away seems even more difficult; how harmful to your community could a little calculator be? They made it seem like the calculator was a gateway drug that would lead children to stray and use other devices with a digital display. And imagine a few years down the road if these kids wanted to go to college, there is no way they could go to a university now a days without a computer. It is difficult to think of my life without one of my electronics let alone all of them.

- Hannah

While reading the article "Why not electricity", i immediately thought about how i wouldn't be a good Amish person. The fact is that I cannot go without all my electricity based technologies. It is not that i don't agree by their ways, it is just that I am person that likes progress. Electricity gives me the means of communicating, making my life easier, making my life more entertaining and many more things. Being a student as well, electricity is greatly needed in our lives. Universities these days implement online submission of course work and mostly they communicate through email. As I am from another country, it makes me wonder, do Amish people go to college or they are just home schooled? Well, reading about their simple lifestyle would make me think that they are definitely home schooled. In my opinion, instead of not having electricity, we should have self-control over certain stuff that is provided.By this way, perhaps they could maintain their simple lives while not being so outdated in the world.That being said, I think that information about current happenings in the world or even climate change is best communicated through the net or TV (electricity). This makes me wonder, would they react fast enough to evacuate an area because of a natural calamity? or would they just stay behind and hope everyday is going to be a fine day?


I find it amazing how the Amish have not succumbed to the use of electricity during the rise of the modern technological age. Although I give them props for living the simple life, I feel that they are isolating themselves from society. People use electricity to stay in touch, to entertain themselves, and pretty much rely on its use in daily life. For example, I am constantly surrounded by the uses of electricity in my everyday life, from the alarm clock in which I wake up to, to the microwave I use to cook my meals. When I look at the Amish, I ask myself, “how do they do it?”

Family life is important for the Amish and the lack of electrical power might be a good thing. Presently, there is a fine line of separation within society that separates relational bonds due to the use of technology. Because the majority of people submit to the use of electric power based on convenience, they become more disconnected as human beings in the living world.


Electricity became a very important essential in many of our lives. In Scotts reading, the first thing he says is, most North Americans believe it is impossible to do without electricity. What is it exactly that we can’t do. We can start a fire for cooking and heat, light candles for visibility in the dark. These are all possible attributes that can replace electricity. The only reason why it is there is to make life easier. I live in Kenya back in 2008 and I remember for several months, we had no electricity. Ever since then, I’ve realized I can manage without so much technology but we most of us enjoy it until it starts costing us so much. I remember watching a Christmas movie where this one guy wanted his Christmas lights to be seen from space. Talk about the amount of electricity he has to use to do that. I have nothing but respect for the Amish people. They’ve learned to keep things conservative and simple without ever so changing the way they handle things. What I mean by that is, they don’t introduce new technology to their community. We’ve grown out of that era a long time ago and something I’ll always say is, we can see the brightness of a star but the star can see the brightness of the earth.


When I read the piece on the amish ways and how they have utilized technology compared to the rest of the world I was extremely shocked. We have come so far in terms of technological advancements that it was very unexpected to see that there are those that do not fully utilize all the resources that are available to us today. Based on the article there are a few different reason as to why they don't use all the technology that we have today. This reminded me of a few people I know that are old fashioned as well. No matter how far we come as a society they prefer to stick with the older ways because they feel more comfortable with them. My parents for example don't see what the point of sending a text message is when you can call the person and leave a message. It's the small things that we love having versus what the Amish did not have that surprises me. It's not that the technology is not available, but more so the fact that some refuse to utilize it.


I think I want to become Amish. On paper they sound like the kind of people I could get down with. The Amish value simplicity, family values and are community oriented through collaboration. The use of electricity and the connection between the Amish in my opinion portray how easy it is to not have to rely on electricity. If the Amish can do it, then anyone can. A lot of these readings help me stimulate my mind and foreshadow into the future sometimes and its kind of scary at times. With the dispersement of electricity into different regions of a particular area is opening up a market. When the demand and the supply don't match in the future is when I'll be going crazy and wild. Another point that I wanted to touch on is, I believe that the Amish children probably have more knowledge about how electricity and technology work more than your average homeowner would. The children. I stand by that statement after reading about their community. WW3 is going to happen over energy or water. I will end with that pic.

I will end with that piece. - Abukar

I will end with the piece of though. - Abukar

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This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on March 5, 2014 10:29 AM.

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