A land without Facebook
By Jason Batansky
17th June 2012 12:10 AM
One of the motivations that propel first world citizens to travel to third world locales is the desire to see how people live who aren’t surrounded by attention-kidnapping technology. Unless you travel to the poorest parts of the globe, however, technology that insists on being checked (Facebook, text message, inboxes) has penetrated just about every world culture. Many of these places will soon have people checking into Facebook wherever they are. Sigh. Just when the smartphonification of the world seems inevitable, and no corner of the globe seems safe, remember that right in belly of the beast is a group that will never have any kind of phone, smart or not. Just two hours or so from the Big Apple, the media capital of the world, the last true rebels and Luddites keep producing fantastic jams, sturdy furniture, and vigilant beards.
I’m talking of course, about the Amish.
Living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Amish country is just an hour or so drive away. So recently we explored Amish country by gas-powered automobile. And yes, our cellphones worked the entire time.
We visited Amish country—as comprised of the small towns to the east of Lancaster, PA. Amish Country is not like an Indian Reservation; there’s not a set area of the Amish (nor should there be). The Amish live among regular people like myself, a Flashpacker. (I hate to use the term “regular people”, but what other word do you use for non-Amish people? Technologically endowed is tempting, but it makes me think of a giant robot… part.) Or maybe I should say regular people live among the Amish, since in some places the Amish are the clear majority.
Visiting Amish country made me realise three things:
• I have no idea where the Amish/Mennonites draw the line on technology they are allowed to use.
• I have no idea what the difference is between Mennonites and Amish (I asked, no one could give me a straight answer) and…
• People will exploit anything for a dollar.
There are many goofy Amish “attractions” around Lancaster that are worth seeing, not for the attractions themselves, but to see the way in which Amish and non-Amish alike market such a unique lifestyle as a tourist attraction. The “Amish House” on the outskirts of Lancaster is a perfect example of something that is more interesting as a symbol than a tourist attraction. The “Amish Farm and House” is an example of a real working Amish house. There are tours, and out back there is a barn with small animals wandering around. All of this the brochure tells you, and the pictures all indicate that this is exactly the reality. And it is. But the context of where it’s located completely changes the meaning. It’s located, literally, on the edge of a huge shopping centre parking lot and is flanked by a Target. A more apt metaphor for the Amish insistence on their way of life, as the regular world continues to build around them, completely indifferent, could not be found. One only has to drive through the farmland a few miles further East of Lancaster to see this at work, as beautiful fields dotted with homesteads and barn silos are bifurcated and veined with huge power lines.
All this being said, Amish country is a good day trip. Just avoid all the touristy stuff, grab a bad map, and get sort of lost. You’ll see horses and buggies everywhere, and every now and again you’ll come across an Amish-run pie shop, or a candle-making store/petting zoo. If you’re the kind of person who needs an itinerary, avoid Amish Country. If you are willing to lazily drive around without much of a point, which, by the way, is antithetical to everything Amish, then turn your cellphone off and go find some Shoofly Pie, homemade root beer, and fresh soft pretzels. I could tell you where some good places are, or you could find them on your smartphone, but trust me, that would destroy the point.
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