WE'RE becoming a bit more Amish. I know - you own a slim titanium ultrabook computer, an eye-popping LCD 3D HD television, an iPhone with a custom-designed carbon-fibre cover, and a sports car with 360 horsepower under the bonnet. You don't have anything in common with the Amish.
It's possible. But there are a lot of us who are beginning to adopt some practices that are pretty close to the Amish. No, I'm not talking about the Amish belief in adult baptism or the importance of farming in daily life. I'm talking about the decisions the Amish make about technology. More and more of us have begun to think about the impact that technology has on our relationships with others, and we've begun to change.
Contrary to many stereotypes, the Amish actually use a lot of technology. I've seen Amish ride in cars, use power tools, and fire up a 600-horsepower Rolls-Royce generator. But the Amish will not use just any technology. And they do not allow it to be used by anybody whenever they want. They have developed a complex set of unwritten rules that guide their daily decisions.
For instance, if you are Amish:
■You can ask a neighbour for a lift in his car to the grocer, but you cannot own a car.
■You can use an air-powered pneumatic belt sander, but not one that plugs into AC power.
■And you can have a community phone booth outside your carpentry shop, but not a telephone inside your house.
For many of us, the technology rules that the Amish have developed seem arbitrary and silly. But they are actually thought through very well.
The Amish meet twice a year in groups of 40-50 families to decide if any rules need to be changed. If someone is thinking about using a new technology, this would definitely be a topic of conversation.
What are the metrics for making decisions about technology? Community and family. The Amish believe that the best life is one that is lived in community with fellow believers. Most decisions are driven by the goal of strengthening the ties they have to one another.
So those seemingly arbitrary rules I just mentioned do have a purpose. Why can't an Amish person buy a car? They have seen how our communities have slowly unravelled to the point where many of us do not even know the names of our neighbours.
They think the car - which allows us to travel great distances by ourselves quickly - bears much of the blame for this. But they do see the benefit of occasionally using car travel, and if a neighbour wants to lend a hand, spending time with them helps to strengthen their ties.
Why allow the use of pneumatic belt sanders? The Amish believe that when their people work for non-Amish employers, they are distracted from their religious holidays and fellow community members. Amish businesses are very important, so that church members do not have to go far to find work.
As our carpentry shops became more industrialised, the Amish could not compete. As such, they have begun to slowly introduce automatic hand tools. So why not just buy an electric sander? Well, the Amish like to put their own stamp on technology by designing and building their own pneumatic sanders.
Why allow the use of phones outside of the house rather than inside? Again, Amish businesses are important, and if an Amish farmer wants to sell his milk to a local dairy, he is going to have to be in phone contact every once in a while. If they must use new technologies to compete in business, the least they can do is protect their home from outside distractions.
There are a lot of Amish practices we won't ever develop. Our identity is wrapped up in using technologies, rather than not using technologies. And I do not see us giving up cars any time soon. But I'm often struck by how much we are beginning to identify with the Amish justification for not having telephones inside.
Increasingly, we complain that email, Facebook and mobile phones are disturbing the relationships we hold most dear. To combat this, many of us have developed rules.
It's hard to find a family that does not specifically prohibit mobiles, texting, and email from the dinner table. Many families believe that dinner is an important time and space to share just with those present. We therefore limit the use of certain technologies to maximise our face-to-face interactions.
Every time you even grudgingly abide by your loved one's request to turn off or disconnect from your phone/email/ Twitter/Facebook when you are spending time with family or loved ones, you are embracing an Amish value.
That's not to say that you dislike those technologies, but rather that you have decided to carve out a part of your life where you do not use them. The more we seek to maximise our values by carefully delineating how, why and when we use technology, we are becoming a bit more Amish.
And, by the way, some of the Amish might be becoming more like us. There are rumours that mobile phone use has become widespread in Amish communities. "But wait," you say. "That violates all of their principles." Yes, it does. But just as it is for us, the ability to communicate with friends and loved ones immediately and across long distances is very enticing to the Amish.
And if you can get that power in a tiny technology that you can hide in your pocket and use when you're in the privacy of your own house, it could be a temptation that you just might not be able to resist. It's hard to follow the rules when you cannot be caught breaking them.
The Amish have learned a lot about technology by watching us use it. They basically use us as an experiment to see what happens to a society when it adopts certain technologies.