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Amish youth and social media: A phase or a fatal error?

Abstract: Recent smartphone use among Old Order Amish youth and some church members in progressive settlements has raised new questions related to the use of smartphones with access to the internet and how this access is changing the way these youth relate to the world and each other, and even their sense of self. Following an exploration of traditional Amish values and the impact of electronic media and internet on all users, this article analyzes the social media posts of a number of Amish youth in progressive Amish communities and suggests that there is very little difference in how Amish youth and non-Amish young adults use social media. The article then raises broader questions surrounding the use of these forms of technology by Amish youth: While Amish have successfully managed other forms of modernity, is the internet a more challenging form of modernity in its ability to reshape the user's approach to life and faith and how one relates to others? Will Amish successfully manage the use of smartphones and the internet as they have other forms of modernity across their history? The answers to these questions will have long-lasting implications for Amish values in those communities that allow the use of smartphones.


Popular depictions of the Old Order Amish frequently assume that they steadfastly resist all modern ways of living and all forms of technology. While it is true that the Amish have attempted to remain a separate people, it is not true that they have rejected all forms of modernization and technology. (1) Rather, the Amish have adopted a slow and thoughtful approach to change in their communities. If the full acceptance of a new technology would likely be disruptive to Amish values or community relationships, then they may find other ways to adapt or innovate. Amish generally do not consider technology evil in itself. They therefore often allow access to, but not ownership of, new technological advances (e.g., automobiles). (2) Thus, rather than opposing all change, the Amish tend to reject what is likely to be harmful to the community; new technology that can be adapted or modified to fit into the existing regulations of the community is accepted. (3) In their authoritative text, The Amish, Donald Kraybill, Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steve Nolt have described the Amish approach to modernization as a "three-pronged strategy: resistance, acceptance and negotiation." (4) In each instance, the goal of the Amish is not to avoid change at any cost, but to consciously find ways of maintaining their traditions and culture, while carefully incorporating some aspects of modernization.


One of the major core values that underpin almost all of the Amish way of life, according to Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt, is Gelassenheit, which "roughly means calmness, acceptance, and yieldedness." (5) Paul Kline, a deacon and retired business owner from Homes County, Ohio, summarized the impact of Gelassenheit by describing it as "yieldedness, resignation, inner surrender, obedience, overcoming selfishness, willingness to reject force and manipulation, to suffer, to surrender self-will and arrogant self-assertiveness, humility, plain dress, a plain lifestyle, and obedience to the Ordnung." (6) The Amish value self-surrender for the good of the family and community over personal achievement. This approach to life places a great deal of importance on yielding to the will of God, parents, community, church, and tradition. From childhood Amish adults learn "to give up" (uffgewwe) or "to give under" (unnergewwe). "We say geh lessa all the time," an Amish father noted. "It means to let go, quit trying to figure it out, let it alone." (7) Surrendering personal interest and plans, and submitting to the will of God and the group, are deeply embedded in the Amish way of life. (8) This might not come without a private struggle, but it happens more often than not.

Another very important value in the Amish faith that flows out of Gelassenheit is personal humility. Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt explain the value in this way: "A humble person, fully yielded to God, submits to others and patiently accepts suffering." (9) Humility is another form of yielding the individual's desires and wishes to the will of God and to that of the community. Jesus provided the perfect example of this when "he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:18). They believe that out of humility grows patience and a quiet approach to faith. Since personal pride is a sign of worldliness, self-exaltation, and lack of submission, the Amish have historically avoided speaking of individual accomplishments, attaining a higher education, or seeking individual attention. The Amish traditionally prize the well-being of the group over that of the individual, a process that begins in childhood with expectations to avoid bragging and to exhibit humility. (10)

In a related way, a strong sense of community is at the heart of Amish life. Along with the family, the Amish church community provides a clear sense of security and a context for belonging and identity. However, this sense of security comes at the price of privacy and personal choice--it requires habits of selflessness and yielding of one's personal wishes to God and others. (11)

In light of these values and ways of life, the Old Order Amish have not permitted radio and television. More recently, these prohibitions have extended to computers, albeit with some exceptions, in business settings, when computers have been modified to restrict email or internet access. (12) The reasons for Amish resistance to these innovations reflect their larger concerns about the impact of technology on the deepest values of their community. (13) First, repeated exposure to the values pervasive in mass media--with a focus on individual rights, choice, expression, and freedom--would likely alter or replace their values of obedience, submission, and self-denial. Second, the non-religious and relativistic basis of the mass media stands in marked contrast to the traditional biblical foundation of the Amish faith. Third, the mass media's focus on free sexual expression outside of marriage and its lack of emphasis on the traditional family runs counter to the Amish teaching that sex outside of marriage is a sin and devalues the importance they place on modesty, sexual purity, and the lifelong nature of marriage. Fourth, the mass media's extensive depictions of violence and coercive force, often in ways that glorify such behavior, conflicts with the teachings of Jesus and the early church. Finally, the media's emphasis on materialism and leisure stands in sharp contrast to the Amish values of hard work, simplicity, and frugality. Repeated exposure to these values through mass media, Amish leaders believe, would reshape the long-held values of the Amish faith and negatively impact future generations. (14)

Given that television and radio are intended almost exclusively for entertainment, the Amish church has rejected these devices without much discussion. This has not been so easy with the telephone. Different Amish affiliations, settlements, and even districts have addressed telephone use in a variety of ways. While the most conservative groups have not allowed any form of telephone ownership, most affiliations have traditionally permitted the construction of phone booths on the property, but not in the home. Having a physical connection between the home and the outside world was not consistent with the commitment to remain separate from the world. Moreover, outside calls are intrusive and often disruptive to family life; keeping the telephone outside the home enables Amish to maintain much more control over how it will affect the natural rhythms of the family. (15)

The presence of the cell phone has significantly complicated this already contentious issue for the Amish. By the mid-1990s, cell phones began to become more common throughout American society. (16) Technically, cell phones did not violate the traditional concerns about having a physical connection between the outside world and the home. And Amish contractors and other business owners found mobile phones very useful on job sites and for contacting potential customers.

Not surprisingly, in more progressive communities, increasing numbers of young people began purchasing cell phones during Rumspringa, a period of time in late adolescence prior to baptism when some Amish youth openly reject the constraints of the Amish community. Some of these young adults found it increasingly difficult to live without their cell phones, even after baptism. Church leaders in many Amish communities have struggled to know how best to respond. Especially troubling is the access that most smartphones provide to the internet and the way they function as cameras. In his analysis of Rumspringa, psychologist Richard Stevick noted that there is a great deal of variation between affiliations and even districts over cell phones. Some allow open ownership of phones by church members, while others excommunicate members who are unwilling to live without a cell phone. Some settlements, affiliations, and districts have tried to distinguish between ordinary cell phones and smartphones, rejecting the latter primarily for the access they provide to the internet. (17) But defining these distinctions clearly and enforcing the rules are proving to be extremely difficult.

Determining the exact number of Amish youth or church members who own cellphones is difficult. Stevick reported that he found Amish youth using cell phones in many of the thirty states where Amish currently live. (18) While the majority of cell phone owners are in the three largest Amish settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, they can also be found in the other, less densely populated Amish settlements as well.


Clearly, the Amish are not the only ones struggling with smartphones and other mobile devices. Cellphones first appeared in 1985 but only became widely popular in the mid-1990s. (19) Smartphones, with their connection to the internet, became widely available in the mid-2000s. (20) Today, cellphones are an integral, ever-present companion in the lives of the majority of Americans. According to a survey of the Pew Research Internet & American Life Project, 92 percent of all U.S. adults above the age of 18 had a cell phone in 2015, 68 percent of which were smartphones. The survey also revealed that young people were the most likely to own a smartphone: 86 percent of 18-29-year-olds vs. 30 percent of those over 65. (21)

Access to this new form of technology is changing the way we think, feel, and interact with each other. Numerous studies, for example, have reported that people feel anxious if they are not in immediate possession of their phone. Many people respond to phantom phone rings or vibrations. (22) In her book published early in the smartphone revolution, How Cell Phones and the Internet Change the Way We Live, Jarice Hanson noted that people boarding a plane often use their cellphones right up to or past the time when the flight attendants ask everyone to turn off their mobile devices; and they immediately turn on their phones as soon as the plane lands, leaving the plane while looking down at their phones. (23) Another researcher, Martin Lindstrom, separately exposed sixteen men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 to an audio and video recording of the ringing and vibrating of an iPhone while they were in a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine (fMRI). According to his findings, regardless of the neurological method of exposure--visual or auditory--research subjects experienced a cross-sensory event known as synesthesia. These men and women also demonstrated activation in the insular cortex, the area of the brain that is associated with feelings of love and compassion, such as seeing family members or loved ones. The research subjects responded, Lindstrom concluded, not as addicts, but with emotions more closely resembling love. (24)

In another well-known study, researcher Sherry Turkle has noted that mobile devices promise people more time by allowing individuals to have nearly constant connection to others and to their work. As a result, however, many people have found that their jobs have intruded further into their private lives as they are always connected to work through mobile devices. They allow us to send email and text messages instead of participating in more time-consuming oral conversation--on the phone or in person. Families may still sit together but email and text others while doing so, and parents become less attentive to what their children are doing. (25) Turkle noted that instead of cherishing communication with friends and family people now "handle" or "get rid of" these letters and notes, not unlike checking off some other dreaded task on a "to do list." In the same way, many people now go on vacation from home but not responsibilities as they continue to receive messages from work and home during the entire course of their time away. (26)

Turkle argues further that communicating on mobile devices has also changed how people present themselves to others. Texting and emailing allows people to "edit" who they are: creating a public image of the self they want to be. In contrast with face-to-face relationships that are messy, time consuming, and require learning how to read faces and moods, people now process, compose, and edit the message before responding. This generates a more sanitized view of who the person is. Turkle contends that the result is a growing reluctance to engage in face-to-face interactions. Mobile devices have more readily allowed people to manage relationships by communicating when, how, and where they want. (27)

Based on extensive interviews, Turkle argues that many people today are gaining a sense of self from their mobile devices. She quoted a smartphone user as saying, "I glance at my watch to sense the time; I glance at my BlackBerry to get a sense of my life." (28) She also discovered that teens view their social media profiles as a true self-representation, even though it is actually a carefully crafted, even distorted, representation of the self in much the same way as a college entrance essay. These new possibilities create a high level of pressure for some teens to create the best possible image of themselves, while also fearing that others will expect them to look and act this way when they meet at school or some other social occasion. Sixteen-year-old Audrey, for example, stated that her Facebook profile is her "little twin on the Internet," which she is continually developing. (29) She may try being "flirty" or "ironic and witty" to see how people respond to her as that kind of person. If it works, she can then adopt that approach in her actual life. Audrey confided that if her Facebook account was deleted, she also would be deleted, as her account contains her memories and pictures of herself that others have posted. "If Facebook were undone," she worried, "I might actually freak out.... That is where I am. It's part of your life. It's a second you." (30)

Nicholas Carr, whose research echoes many of the concerns raised by Turkle, has argued that the fear connected to a social media presence arises from the fact that one's social standing is continually at risk through one's social media profile, thereby increasing a sense of self-consciousness and fear. This is particularly true, Carr claims, for teens and young adults who are constantly seeking connections through texting. (31) Michael Hausauer, a psychotherapist, has noted that teens and other young adults have a "terrific interest in knowing what's going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop. If they stop sending messages, they risk becoming invisible." (32) The teens interviewed by Turkle support Hausauer's contention. Turkle found that teens reported a deep need to check every Facebook notification--a phone alert that lets the user know whenever some activity appears on their Facebook profile--even while driving, for fear of missing something. Teens also reported answering a second call while on the phone with another friend; the curiosity of needing to know who was calling, and why, appeared to be even stronger when the call was from an "unknown" caller. These teens talked as if they had no other choice but to respond to these notifications and calls. Turkle concluded that they were "driven" to connect. Indeed, none of the teens she interviewed could name a time when they did not want to be interrupted by others. What she regarded as interruptions they viewed as opportunities to connect. (33)

Turkle concluded that this constant connection with others through mobile devices makes it very difficult for people to feel comfortable being alone. As people's sense of self has become increasingly dependent on constant contact with others, appreciating solitude appears to be a lost art. Turkle expressed concern that a dependence on mobile devices is producing a very fragile sense of self that is held together only through continual electronic points of connection. (34)

The research of Turkle, Carr, and others indicates that smartphones and the internet have not only changed the ways we gather information; they are also transforming the way we connect with others, the way we think about community, and the way we view and "create" ourselves. This research leads to a host of questions. Is it possible to be unaffected by the impact of such a powerful force? Can people have a brief time of exposure to smartphones and the internet and walk away without being impacted? Can people experience the constant connection to others and the social media creation of self for a short time and then simply leave it all behind? Although most Amish parents would not be familiar with the research literature, many intuitively sense the dangers to their culture and way of life inherent in cellphones and, especially, smartphones.

These questions are all the more compelling for young people in progressive Amish communities. Indeed, the Amish use of smartphones that allow them access to the internet and social media may provide a unique opportunity to determine if it is indeed possible to walk away from such technology without major changes in one's sense of self, relationship to others, and values and approach to life.


With a few exceptions, smartphone, internet, and social media use by Amish youth has not received much attention. In his 2007 book Growing Up Amish, Stevick included only one short reference to cell phones or social media: "News of the party travels quickly and widely over the Amish youth grapevine or cell phones." (35) In 2011, Gill Smart, of the Lancaster Sunday News, noticed that a number of teens with Amish-sounding last names had "liked" the newspaper's Facebook page. Smart contacted some of these individuals but did not get any response. Based on interviews with several scholars of the Amish and a few Amish who were willing to talk to him, Smart reported several observations. One of the Amish adult women, for example, estimated that 1 to 2 percent of Amish youth use Facebook. She also stated her belief that the adults of the community are aware of their teens' involvement but unaware of how extensive that use is. Another adult Amish male noted that Amish youth have always been interested in new trends and changes--Facebook was no different. Noted sociologist Donald Kraybill speculated that the youth on Facebook were likely in the Rumspringa age and were not church members. "Many of the youth on [Facebook]," he cautioned, "are on the margins, not mainstream Amish youth." (36) Smart also quoted Steve Nolt, another noted scholar of the Amish, who suggested that most of Amish youth on Facebook were friends only with other Amish youth and were not extending their social contacts beyond Amish circles.

Two years later, in 2013, Justine Sharrock, an investigative journalist, writing for the popular online blog Buzzfeed, came to more dramatic conclusions. Based on an interview with Noah Hershberger, a 22-year-old who had recently left the Amish, Sharrock suggested that "no other site... has taken off as massively as Facebook amongst the Amish teens. Everyone is on Facebook." (37) According to Sharrock, Amish youth frequently posted party pictures on Facebook and used the site as a way of staying in touch with local and distant friends. She also noted that Christian-themed memes, images, and phrases were popular with Amish youth. Sharrock interviewed Chris Weber, who works with Amish teens in Indiana who struggle with drug and alcohol-related abuse issues. Weber noted that Facebook brought into sharp relief the conflict between the traditional Amish emphasis on self-sacrifice and humility and the Facebook affinity for "selfies"--pictures of oneself taken at arm's length, usually with a cellphone. Based on his conversations with Amish teens, Weber concluded that they use Facebook to do what they would do anyway--connect with one another--and that they would not spend their time playing video games on their phones or Facebook. (38)


Given the lack of attention focused on the social media landscape of Amish youth, my investigation sought to provide a more systematic examination of the lives of Amish youth on social media. The current study began when an 18-year-old young woman who had not yet joined the church agreed to identify all of her nearly 800 Facebook "friends." Working from a printed copy of these names, along their profile pictures, the young person identified those friends who had grown up in Amish homes, along with their state of residence, the youth group (gang) they were a member of (Lancaster settlement only), and if they were baptized church members. Once this was done, I was able to analyze each of the Facebook profiles of the "friends" who had grown up in Amish homes or who were church members. Rather than sending "friend' requests to these individuals or contacting them directly, I examined the social media content that each person made public on their Facebook page. Therefore, any youth who had adjusted their privacy settings to limit public access revealed no information for this investigation. However, surprisingly few of these youth used the highest privacy setting. While it is difficult to determine the exact levels of protection, it was evident at times that some content was not available due to privacy settings.

The breakdown of the complete list of Facebook friends revealed that 360, or slightly less than half (43 percent) grew up in Amish homes, and of these, 68 were church members. The vast majority of those who grew up in Amish homes were from the three largest settlements (Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Holmes County, Ohio; and Elkhart and LaGrange counties, Indiana), although a small number were from Iowa and Michigan. My informants (39) estimated that perhaps 50 percent of Rumspringa youth in the Lancaster settlement have cellphones. Approximately 75 percent of those phones are smartphones and approximately half of smartphone owners have a Facebook account. Given that in 2013 there were approximately 4,500 Amish youth in the Lancaster settlement, this would suggest that around 1,000 Amish youth in the Lancaster setting are using Facebook. If one assumes that similar numbers from the other two large Amish settlements, then perhaps as many as 3,000 Amish youth are on Facebook in those three settlements.

The smaller, more rural, communities, by contrast, appear to have few, if any, Facebook users. For example, an attempt to locate Amish youth who are Facebook users in the Kishacoquillas Valley (Big Valley) communities in Central Pennsylvania revealed only a few Amish youth with cellphones and no confirmed Facebook users. Given this finding, the information presented here is most representative of the most progressive Amish youth in the more progressive communities and likely says little about Amish youth outside these communities or even those in these communities that do not have access to smartphones, the internet, and social media.


Facebook appears to be the most widely used social media platform. A search on Twitter and Instagram of the 360 Amish youth names from the Facebook profiles revealed only a few who had one or both accounts. However, accurate numbers were hard to confirm, given that some of the youth may not have used their actual names, or that youth with similar names could have had accounts.

An analysis of each of these 360 Facebook profiles revealed that the Facebook activities of Amish youth differs little from the habits of their "English" counterparts. Amish young people post updates about their day, their jobs, and other events in daily life. They also post pictures related to the activities of their friends and family. They share pictures taken on trips and at concerts or sporting events. They take "selfies," some of which include the popular facial poses seen on social media sites, and they exhibit many of the same hand signals that one would routinely see on the pages of other young Americans. Amish youth had an average of 423 Facebook friends, which compares with an average of 510 for 18-24 year-olds nationally. (40)

While not a perfect measure of how Amish youth regard popular brand names, movies, and television shows, an analysis of Facebook profiles and "likes" does give some indication of what they enjoy. Most Amish youth had an English (non-Amish) picture of themselves as their Facebook profile picture (83 percent). Nineteen percent of the Facebook profiles included pictures of youth in both Amish and English clothing. One young woman posted a picture of herself on Twitter dressed in Amish clothing that she labeled, "The Amish me." Some profile pictures featured the youth and their friends in English clothing while the cover picture had the same youth and friends in Amish clothing. Generally, Amish young women wore the same style of clothing as their English peers--for example, frequently in T-shirts or sweatshirts bearing popular brand names, along with shorts, summer skirts, and dresses. When dressed for a night out with a rented limousine (only observed in the large Indiana and Ohio settlements), girls wore the same style of dresses that English girls would wear to the prom. Some included off the shoulder styles with short skirts. Photos from beaches--most often from East Coast beaches or Siesta Key beach in Florida--usually showed Amish young women in bikinis. One such picture featuring five young women was titled by the girl who posted it as "beach babes" followed by the heart sign. Young women's hair was generally long, but often featured trimmed bangs that would be pulled back and out of sight when hair was worn in the traditional Amish style. Females were more likely than males to be dressed in traditional Amish clothing. However, less than 20 percent of the photos of females featured girls wearing traditional clothing and head coverings. A number of young women included group pictures of friends in a variety of outdoor poses taken by a professional photographer. A number of pictures, mostly selfies, were of two to four females dressed in Amish clothing and out shopping together, trying on sunglasses, for example, or high heels. Many of the young women wore eye and facial makeup, often foundation, shaded lip gloss, and colorful nail and toe polish. Bracelets, rings, and necklaces were evident, along with occasional ankle bracelets and earrings.

Males often dressed in T-shirts or sweatshirts advertising popular brand names or sport teams. Young men also wore tank tops and popular styles of shorts commonly worn by English youth. A number of males were photographed shirtless in their trips to the beach. Hunting "camo" was also popular on hunting trip photos. Amish males frequently wore baseball caps backwards or skewed in various directions. One image depicted three young men in traditional Amish clothes with their shirts untucked, collars turned up, and wearing baseball caps turned in various directions while flashing hand signals. Young men were more likely than women to pose for humorous or ironic pictures. An example of this was two young men posing in a horse-drawn tourist carriage as if they were English tourists while flashing hand signals. In another image, two males pose for a photo in a carriage looking at a pink laptop. The title for this picture on Facebook was "watchin movies on the way to the hop is the way to go! Lol." Some of the other Amish youth commented on how "genius" this was and one young woman wrote: "that has got to be the most mixed up situation ever lol a carriage with a laptop in it?? amish these days!! :)." One of the young men in the photo noted that they were thinking of installing a Playstation or Xbox next. Many of the young men wore their hair short and unlike the traditional Amish style. Some of the young men also wore necklaces and the customized rubber bracelets that have become common promotional accessories.

Based on the number of Amish youth who "liked" the Facebook pages of clothing companies, Hollister Co., Aeropostale, and American Eagle Outfitters are the three most popular brand names. When the 18-year-old young woman, whose Facebook friends were included in this study, was asked about this lineup of preferences, she replied, "I wore those brands two years ago, and now they are definitely out with us older ones." (41) Three different motivational or inspirational pages that focused on physical fitness received 21 "likes." One page had the tag "From weak bod to Greek God." Although piercings were rare for both men and women--only 23 individuals--a few young men in northern Indiana wore earrings. In contrast to current trends in contemporary culture, Amish youth seem to avoid (or choose not to reveal) tattoos.

A search for Facebook status themes revealed many postings related to work and daily life, as well as a number of scripture verses or Christian-related sayings. This was much more common for young people in the Lancaster settlement than the other settlements. One example is this status: "Every temptation is an Opportunity to do good :):) [love]. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. [??] @Corinthians 12:9." This status received 30 "likes" and two comments. Based on the Facebook pages that received "likes" from Amish youth, two popular Christian-related sites were a daily devotional ministry called Our Daily Bread, and Joyce Myers Ministry, the site of a popular Christian author and speaker.

An additional status theme related to Amish gang (youth group) announcements. These included announcements for singings, game nights, speakers, and birthday parties. Here is an example of such a status:
NOTICE AVALANCHE YOUTH!!!!! Singin classes r starting this Monday nite
which is th 11thn then they meet Monday nite the 18th then Tuesday
nites for th last 4 classes!!! Tell ur parents theyr welcome to come n
mention something to ur friends that don't hav fbook!!! B at my house
at 7!!!

Another example:
Dauphin youth, if anyone wants to schedule a supper & singeon or a Sat
nite gathering for the Blubirds please tx me! (: I'm trying to get a
schedule together for June & Julu! Please pitch in and help us have
stuff goin:) thanks!

Users also announced cancellations or changes in events on Facebook.

Amish youth taking trips between the three largest settlements were another common theme. This included photos taken in the car while traveling with statements such as "Yeeaaa wer on the wayy 2 Ohio!!!!!!! :) :):) It's already an awesomeee weekend!!! :) :) I can just feel it!!!! :):):)" or "haulin' a** and burning gas... Holmes County here we come!!" When these youth returned home they often posted pictures of the weekend that were often accompanied by statements about how much they enjoyed the visit. In addition, "I miss you already" messages were also posted along with requests for drivers by anyone who may be making a trip to one of these three settlements in coming weekends. The most common trips appeared to be between Indiana and Ohio, and Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Amish youth clearly had exposure to various forms of entertainment, evidenced in the number of "likes" associated with television shows, movies, and contemporary music. The six most common television shows mentioned were: Family Guy, Chicago Fire, Friday Night Lights, One Tree Hill, Two and a Half Men, and Prison Break. (42) The following movies were "liked" the most frequently by Amish youth: Fast and Furious series; Step Up series; and Dear John; The Last Song; Like Dandelion Dust; Soul Surfer; Footloose; Honey series; Courageous; Fireproof; The Hangover series; and Ted. (43) The movie list reveals an interesting cross-section of titles ranging from those produced by evangelical churches (e.g., Courageous and Fireproof) to those that are clearly more "adult oriented," containing nudity or sexual themes (e.g., The Hangover series and Ted). The Amish youth in the Facebook sample also reveal an enjoyment of movies with romance, fast cars, and dance, shared by teens across America.

Among the genres of contemporary music, country-western received the most "likes," with Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, and Miranda Lambert among the most popular artists. The youth in the Indiana settlement were much more inclined to "like" urban styles of music--for example, Usher and Akon--than their peers in the Pennsylvania and Ohio groups. Other genres receiving "likes" included contemporary and classic rock groups.

In keeping with many evangelical youth in America, Amish youth also liked contemporary Christian music artists, with the three most popular groups being Casting Crowns, Chris August, and Skillet. Two uniquely Amish youth music "likes" included Noyz Boyz and Lonesome Highway. Noyz Boyz is an Amish youth cover band from Pennsylvania that plays popular top-40 style music and has performed in all three large settlements. According to their Facebook page, the Lonesome Highway is a group of four Amish youth that loves to play traditional country music at parties, cookouts, and other social occasions in Ohio.

As evidenced by photos, Amish youth also participate in local sports teams, including softball and hockey, and take hunting trips in local settings as wells more exotic settings in the Western states. Volleyball is clearly the sport of choice in terms of the broadest participation and involvement. In fact, Amish youth in Pennsylvania created a Facebook page dedicated solely to the promotion of local benefit volleyball tournaments.

Alcohol consumption and parties were also evident in a number of profiles. Eighty-one of the 360 Facebook profiles identified as Amish contained photos of alcohol or drinking parties. A small number (9) of the youth "liked" the Amish parties Facebook page. These pages frequently included pictures of alcohol use, often with males drinking and laughing. Other pictures depicted beer pong--a popular drinking game in the English world involving plastic cups and a ping pong ball--including one titled "Amish beer pong" that received 20 likes and 3 shares. The photo showed guvs dressed in traditional Amish clothing playing beer pong behind a wall of straw or hay bales in a barn or shed with an Amish buggy and horses in the background.

Amish youth in Ohio and Indiana also posted photos of limo parties. An Amish youth from Pennsylvania reported that these kinds of parties are fairly frequent in Indiana: "They look for any excuse to rent a limo." (44) She went on to say that the Indiana youth who work in factories can afford to rent the limos. These often included men wearing dress shirts, dress pants, and colorful ties, and women in night club-like dresses. One photo of two males drinking in dress clothes was titled "haha wish I wudv remembered wat happened fri nite! Lol." One of these female friends wrote that his "liver end up being pretty shot that night. Lol" One status asked the question, "If u have 6 bottles in one hand and 5 in the other what do u have?????? :)" The answers to that question included "big hands," "drinking problem," "memory loss," "an alcoholic haha," and "a drunk night ahead of you." All of these responses, except for the memory loss comment, received "likes."

Sometimes announcements for singings and other youth group events were followed by comments about being drunk or partying in the comments below the announcement. Infrequently parties were also announced on Facebook statuses. An Amish male youth from Pennsylvania indicated that this happens with some frequency with code words often used to hide the true purpose of the gathering. (45)


What does the Amish youth engagement with the internet and social media mean for the future of the Amish in those progressive communities where this activity is happening? Certainty it would be misguided to conclude that such trends will lead to the demise of the Amish. (46) The Amish have survived many changes that have occurred in the wider culture around them. When Amish youth began listening to radio and later watching television during their Rumspringa years, undoubtedly some might have concluded that this behavior would bring the Amish way of life to an end. Clearly that did not happen. An Amish father, who grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, suggested that there is little difference between what can be seen on Facebook today and what exists in photo albums, tucked away, from his era of Rumspringa. Amish youth during his era, he claimed, also went to Ocean City, Maryland, and danced in night clubs; the major difference with Facebook today is that the behavior is visible to more people. (47)

Is he right? Is the only difference between Amish youth then and now the number of people today who have access to photos of their behavior? Or does the use of the internet, cellphones, and social media by Amish youth qualitatively change the experience and their future?

Turkle's research would suggest that these Amish youth are very aware of their self-presentation on social media. Amish youth on social media--think, for example, of the young women who posted the picture on Twitter titled "The Amish me"--consciously switch back and forth between the English and Amish worlds. Their Facebook posts clearly reflect on what it is like to be Amish and their awareness of how the outside world views the Amish world. One Amish young woman tweeted: "why do Amish people have twitter? What are they gonna tweet about? 'Hitching up the horse. Ready to go raise a barn and eat some shoofly'." Perhaps Amish young people have always engaged in this level of self-reflection and discussions regarding the difference between their perceived experience and the perception that those outside of the Amish have of them. The difference today, however, is that the internet both provides a window on the Amish world and gives the Amish a platform to reflect on themselves and their culture in a public fashion.

Facebook profiles by their very nature are self-focused; the whole premise of the "selfie" is the individual. Yet, as Chis Weber noted in his interview with Sharrock, this preoccupation with appearance and self-expression is directly opposed to values that lie at the heart of the Amish way: Gelassenheit and humility. (48) Thus, it seems highly likely that participation in social media and its emphasis on self-expression for Amish youth in these progressive communities will put increasing pressure on these values and threaten to reshape them and bring a more individualistic influence into this strong community-based culture, weakening the bonds of Gelassenheit that have united this group for so long.

Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt have observed that Gelassenheit may already be weakening in some Amish affiliations. Traditionally, Gelassenheit has meant that Amish do not publish their full names in public settings. In the past, for example, Amish who wrote books, pamphlets, or articles often published them anonymously or only with their initials. In a similar way, business cards rarely included the individual names of the proprietors. Yet studies suggest that in more progressive communities resistance to individual recognition is weakening. (49) One example of this change is Linda Byler, an Amish woman, who writes Amish romance novels. In a video clip posted by her publishers on the internet, Byler reflected on the current tension to maintain the spirit of Gelassenheit. "Humility is just something that we are constantly trying to keep," she said, "but it's harder and harder as our way of life changes." (50)

Increased participation in social media also elevates the importance of appearance--physical appearance, fashion sensibilities, and what one owns. Stevick has argued that the lack of exposure to thin models and movie stars may help explain what appears to be significantly fewer cases of anorexia and bulimia in Amish culture when compared with mainstream American culture. "This seems to be especially true," he noted, "in the more traditional Amish groups, where physical attractiveness appears to be less important to self-worth and identity than desirable character traits, a humble demeanor, moral development, and maturity." (51)

The growing exposure to Facebook and the internet among Amish young people brings a heightened emphasis on physical attractiveness and greater exposure to culturally-defined notions of beauty in the models and actresses they encounter in social media. One Amish young woman posted a "selfie" on Facebook of herself dressed in traditional Amish clothing, while still revealing her Florida tan. This photo received 39 "likes" and comments such as, "bam girl," "Wow,!" "Beautiful :))))," "wow (: u boat tired of Florida lol!! (:." Will these young women be able to move past this increased awareness of, and emphasis on, their physical attractiveness as they become young Amish mothers? If they are unable to do so, it would appear that Amish women are at an increased risk for developing the dissatisfaction with their body and physical appearance that has troubled non-Amish women for many years.

Stevick also reported that the most frequent concern he heard when talking to Amish parents and church leaders about the next generation was smartphones, computers, and the internet, particularly the temptations of pornography and the consequences of other sources of media exposure. Stevick quoted a counselor, who works with Amish males in court-ordered treatment, who claimed that the number of these males with smartphones who were involved with pornography was "one hundred percent." (52) Even apart from the concerns regarding pornography, it seems inevitable that increased exposure to the mainstream culture through these new forms of technology will have a long-term effect on young people.

Amish leaders rejected radio and television out of a concern for exposure to sex, violence, individualism, and materialism. The internet is not only filled with such content, in an uncensored and readily available manner, but it also has an additional interactive quality. When one goes online, one often becomes an active participant in the cyberspace world in a way that would never be the case with radio, television, or movies. The highly engaging quality of the internet has the potential to impact what Amish youth value and believe far more than the passive media offerings of the past.

Voices within different Amish affiliations have become increasingly concerned about the use of smartphones by Amish youth and church members alike. In late 2013, the Lancaster bishops agreed that smartphones would no longer be acceptable for church members. (53) Will this be a viable strategy with a growing number of Amish church members who rely on the internet for their businesses? Will the exposure to smartphones and the internet during their Rumspringa days become an irresistible power that pulls young people away from the church? Can the neurological, psychological, and social impact of the internet--particularly the constant contact with others provided by smartphones and texting--be undone? (54)

As Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt have noted, the internet, smartphones, and other electronic devices merge entertainment and work, good and evil, in ways that make the lines between the Amish community and the world much harder to draw. "The fixed lines in Amish culture that held modernity at bay for so long," they write,
are now beginning to dissolve. Digital devices are more unpredictable
and dangerous than automobiles ever were because, instead of taking an
individual out into the world, the new gadgets bring the entire world,
with all its temptations, and resources, to the individual. What does
separation from the world look like when you can hold the world in your
pocket? (55)

Certainly Amish culture is confronting a medium with a level of influence they have never before faced. In Carr's words, "the Net commands our attention with far greater insistency than television or radio or morning newspaper ever did." (56) Does the fact that Amish youth and some church members who can now hold in their hands immediate access to the world--a world they sought to avoid for more than 300 years--mean that this is the beginning of the end for the Amish?


The internet is a powerful force unlike any other technologies. Containing that force is made more complicated for the Amish by the fact that the internet has become a necessity for an increasing number of businesses. (57) What will the answer to this dilemma be? One Amish man observed that the answer will not lie with current church leaders but in the wise and discerning decisions of hundreds of young Amish men and women. (58) They certainly are the ones in a position to recognize the tension between the values that they were taught and those communicated through the internet. In the end, the real danger posed by the internet and technology may not be so direct, in the behavior of Amish youth, but rather in the way in which these technologies may weaken and replace core values integral to Amish culture.

Without the foundation of these values, Amish culture in these progressive communities is not likely to survive in the long run, even if it continues to look the same for one or two more generations. (59) It is possible that the current generation of Amish leadership in these progressive communities will succeed in drawing lines strategically, as has been done so many times when Amish culture and modernity have collided. (60) However, it is just as possible that exposure to the powerful new forms of electronic media will lead to a cultural and value shift in this generation of Amish youth that results in a desire to redefine what it means to be Amish in these progressive communities. This challenge is made more difficult by the rapid changes in the world of communication technology. As the Amish father observed, by the time leaders make tactical decisions about where to draw the lines, new technologies will likely make those decisions obsolete. (61)

One possible outcome of this shift in these foundational values would be a larger number of young people choosing not to join the church or joining but subsequently leaving. It could also result in a larger than usual group of Amish church members splitting off from their current affiliations and forming new groups that would be more accepting of technology, as has happened before within the Amish and other Anabaptist groups. (62) Thus, the question of smartphone and internet use is likely to increase the number of affiliations, with the differences among these affiliations becoming increasingly diverse. Since farmers may feel they do can do without smart phones and computers, they may be more likely to maintain traditional values and more likely to oppose the acceptance of the electronic changes that appeal to Amish business owners. (63) Given the importance of the internet to business, those groups that have remained the most connected to farming appear to have the best chance of maintaining a hard line against the acceptance of communication technology. (64)

How these Amish young people in progressive communities respond and what decisions they make about the electronic media will be revealed by the passage of time as they become adults, parents, and possible church members. Longitudinal studies that explore how the use of smartphone and social media impact future church membership and the decision to remain Amish would be very revealing in identifying the long-term impact of current use of these devices. However, history does teach that the Amish possess the cultural traditions and collective experience to succeed at that task as well as or better than anyone. They will need this long history of previous successes as they face what is likely their biggest challenge yet--one that feels qualitatively different than any other form of technology they have encountered thus far.


(*) Charles Jantzi is a professor of psychology at Messiah College (Grantham, Pa.). He expressed indebtedness to a colleague, Richard Stevick, who urged and encouraged research on what he calls "The Electronic Rumspringa." Jantzi noted that Stevick's book Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years (2014) provided a helpful context for the research. This book is the only work that gives substantive information on the role of the internet and social media on Amish youth.

(1.) Donald Kraybill, Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steve Nolt, The Amish (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 312-313.

(2.) Ibid., 315

(3.) Donald Kraybill, Steve Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher, The Amish Way (San Francisco: Josey-Bass), 123-130.

(4.) Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, xi.

(5.) Ibid, 98.

(6.) Ibid.

(7.) Ibid.

(8.) Ibid.

(9.) Ibid, 67. An important verse is I Peter 5:5 "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (KJV).

(10.) Kraybill, "Plain Reservations: Amish and Mennonite Views of Media and Computers," 99-110.

(11.) Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher, The Amish Way, 34-36.

(12.) Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, 117.

(13.) See Richard Stevick's description and discussion of the contrast between Amish values and "worldly" values in Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, (2014), 307.

(14.) Kraybill, "Plain Reservations: Amish and Mennonite Views of Media and Computers," 99-110.

(15.) Ibid. In addition, some Amish have also lamented the loss of social context and body language and other subtle means of communication that are available during face to face conversations.--Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, 323-324.

(16.) Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, 324.

(17.) Stevick, Growing up Amish, 2nd ed., 194-201.

(18.) Ibid, 194.

(19.) Jarice Hanson, How Cell Phones and the Internet Change the Way we Live, Work and Play (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2007), 2.

(20.) Ira Sager, "Before IPhone and Android Came Simon, the First Smartphone," Bloomberg Businessweek, June 29, 2012.

(21.) Monice Anderson, "Technology Device Ownership: 2015," PewResearchCenter Internet, Science & Tech, Oct. 29,

(22.) Martin Lindstrom, "You Love Your IPhone. Literally," The New York Times, Sept. 30,

(23.) Hanson, How Cell Phones and the Internet Change the Way we Live, Work and Play, 12-14.

(24.) Lindstrom, "You Love Your IPhone. Literally."

(25.) Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 162-165. Turkle quoted a Facebook message she received from one of her friends: "The problem with handling your e-mail backlog is that when you answer mail, people answer! So for each 10 you handle, you get 5 more! Heading down towards my goal of 300 left tonight, and 100 tomorrow."--Ibid, 168.

(26.) Ibid, 165-167.

(27.) Ibid., 198-201.

(28.) Ibid, 163.

(29.) Ibid, 192.

(30.) Ibid., 192.

(31.) Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010), 115-118.

(32.) Ibid, 118.

(33.) Turkle, Alone Together, 171-172.

(34.) Ibid, 175-179.

(35.) Richard Stevick, "Growing Up Amish: The Teenage Years (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 162. Changes in the use of technology were the main reason that JHUP editors asked Stevick to write another edition of his book. As a result, this topic was given much more attention in his revision of this book. Stevick, Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years, 2nd ed.

(36.) Gill Smart, "Amish Youth Hitchin' up to Facebook," Lancasteronline, June 19,

(37.) Justine Sharrock, "Why Amish Teens Love Facebook," Buzzfeed, May 28,

(38.) Ibid.

(39.) This young woman and an Amish family that included boys that were just about ready to enter Rumspringa, (ages 12 to 16) answered questions about what was observed.

(40.) Arbitron/Edison Research. MarketingCharts Staff, "18-24-year-olds of Facebook boast an average of 510 friends," MarketingCharts, April 3,

(41.) Conversation with the 18-year-old female who agreed to participate in this investigation of social media use by Amish youth.

(42.) These shows all received between 10 and 14 likes.

(43.) These movies all received between 10 and 20 likes.

(44.) Conversation with the 18-year-old female who agreed to participate in this investigation of social media use by Amish youth.

(45.) Conversation with a 16-year-old Amish male who agreed to participate in this investigation of social media use by Amish youth.

(46.) In the 1950s, Gertude Enders Huntington, a young Yale anthropology Ph.D. student in the 1950s who studied the Amish of Ohio, reported that her professors strongly encouraged her to undertake her study since they were convinced that the Amish would soon die out.--Kraybill, Tohnson-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, ix-x.

(47.) Conversation with an Amish father who agreed to participate in this investigation of social media use by Amish youth.

(48.) Sharrock, "Why Amish Teens Love Facebook."

(49.) Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, 113-114, 370.

(50.) Open Road Media, "Meet Linda Byler" (Video File), Oct. 17,

(51.) Stevick, Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years, 2nd ed., 56.

(52.) Ibid., 108.

(53.) Ibid., 305. Subsequently, Stevick learned that not all bishops relayed this information to their congregations, reflecting the divisive nature of smart phone technology.

(54.) See Stevick's more comprehensive discussion of the possible future effects of changing technology in ibid., 275-310.

(55.) Kraybill, Johnsom-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, 409.

(56.) Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, 117.

(57.) Already in 2004 Donald Kraybill and Steve Nolt wrote about the increased use of the internet and other forms of technology in Amish businesses. They also discussed the transformation of Amish society that resulted in the shift from an agrarian lifestyle into a market economy.--Kraybill and Nolt, Amish Enterprise (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004), vii, 207-243.

(58.) Conversation with an Amish father who agreed to participate in this investigation of social media use by Amish youth.

(59.) Stevick reports that when asked about the greatest challenge facing Amish today, adult members of the community overwhelmingly name smartphones and social media as their greatest concerns. On Nov. 15, 2014, a three-page "Letter of Concern to the Amish Community" written by an Amish father with connections to the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin, Ohio, was made available "to our Amish community by Amish bishops, ministers, and deacons in the area."

(60.) A counselor from Life Ministries in Quarryville, Pa., visited a number of Lancaster County's youth groups to talk with young people and their parents about the dangers inherent on the internet.--Ibid, 347.

(61.) Conversation with an Amish father who agreed to participate in this investigation of social media use by Amish youth.

(62.) Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt have described the increasing number of affiliations and the differences between Amish affiliations. They also wrote about a member of a more conservative affiliation who indicated that he feels as distant from more progressive Amish as he does from the English he interacts with.--Kraybill, Johnsom-Weiner, and Nolt, The Amish, 412.

(63.) Marc Olshan raised concerns about the impact on Amish society resulting from the shift away from an agrarian lifestyle when he wrote that "the proliferation of cottage industries symbolizes a rather dramatic opening of Amish society to the larger world--an opening that will surely bring substantial consequences in their struggle with modernity." See his discussion of this in Donald Kraybill and Marc Olshan, The Amish Struggle with Modernity (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994), 132-146,133.

(64.) Gerald Mast writes about the business pressures that significantly impacted the 2009 division over internet use within The Old German Baptist Brethren Church.--Mast, "The Old German Baptist Brethren Church Division of 2009: The Debate over the Internet and the Authority of the Annual Meeting," MQR 88 (Jan. 2014), 45-64.
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Author:Jantzi, Charles
Publication:Mennonite Quarterly Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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