chapter  11
The Amish and the telephone
Pages 11

Since 1909, the Amish in Pennsylvania, USA, have banned the telephone from their homes. Through the description of the meaning of the telephone as perceived through Amish eyes, this chapter attempts to bring a cultural and historical perspective to our ongoing enquiry into the adoption of the telephone and to the adoption of communication technologies in general. The Amish response to the telephone highlights two perspectives that, while obvious, are not always explicitly accounted for in research. First, historical and cultural orientations shape the meaning of the telephone for particular social groups. The telephone has little universal meaning apart from that which is constructed or negotiated by those social groups who make use of it. Its meaning is transformed as social and cultural boundaries are crossed. Second, the telephone is not universally welcomed. The history of those who reject, or in time reconfigure, telephone use for certain social objectives can provide insight into our working assumptions about the social meaning of the telephone. In the case of the Amish, rejection of communications technologies such as the telephone seems to articulate distinct social boundaries and in turn facilitates maintenance of those boundaries and the community as a whole.