February 13th, 2009

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Amish Technology Adoption

I live in Amish country. There are a few Amish folks in my immediate area; when we go to Wal-Mart, we usually see some. Not far from us is one of the larger settlements, in Arthur, Illinois. We go up there to shop sometimes. When I was little, there were a few Amish kids in the public schools, so I knew them from there too.

I like the Amish. I admire their sense of tradition and their powerful community ties. They're wise enough to keep their own language. They are a precious storehouse of old skills and knowledge, and I'm glad we have them. They'll be the salvation of us all if anything ever happens to cream our precious high-tech gizmosphere. Yes, they're weird. So am I, in different ways. I wouldn't want to live exactly the way they do -- I'm too much of an individualist at heart -- but I'm very grateful to have them as an example. This opinion is not ubiquitous; some people around here respect the Amish, but others are downright hostile. The more fool they. Diversity is strength.

There's one thing I have adopted from the Amish, and that's part of their approach to technology. Underlying all the religious interpretations and various other practicalities is this core principle: A new thing must do more good than harm in order to be adopted. Since many new things do equivalent good and harm, or greater harm -- especially in the beginning -- the Amish tend not to adopt much new tech. I can't say I blame them.

I don't draw the line in the same place they do, and gods know I'm fascinated by new things, but I have a suspicious nature that also makes me look for the hook in the bait. So I do tend to consider, looking at some new thing, whether it will really justify its presence and its cost, or just be more trouble than it's worth. I try to think about the implications -- the benefits of using it, the costs of using it, the costs of not using it -- before I make a decision. And when I'm trying out a new thing, or watching other people try it out first, I observe as carefully as I can what happens.

Sometimes I decide that a new thing isn't something I want to try; maybe later if it improves, maybe not. Sometimes I give it a try and see how it works. Sometimes I discard it as counterproductive, although that's not a decision I'd be comfortable placing in someone else's hands. I can understand how the Amish would be okay with that kind of collective decision-making, because they have the community support; if abandoning troublesome tech causes a hardship, there are people to help with that. Sometimes my approach puts me at odds with the mainstream, which tends to be full-forward on most technology; but it's not like much of me is mainstream to begin with. And when they start throwing stones about "stupid Amish religious rules" ... I point out that what technology is regulated out of existence, like stem cell research, is often made so for some other religion's reasoning, though less openly.

What got me thinking about all this is an article about "Amish hackers" that haikujaguar sent to me. It gives a very detailed look at some of the reasoning and culture behind their decisions. It's a perspective worth reading.
hiss, lynx

When Nobody's Business Becomes Everybody's Business

I found this article recently:

CEO Pay Is Nobody's Business but Shareholders'
Washington, D.C., February 11, 2009--In a new article just published on Businessweek.com, Dr. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, argues against the idea that our government should dictate CEO pay to America's companies. According to Dr. Brook, "Shareholders have a moral right to pay whatever they judge necessary to attract, retain, and motivate talented leaders."


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A Lecture on Paint

My partner Doug found this fascinating online video. It's a lecture about the intricacies of paint and painter's tools, juxaposed with a fascinating example of a painting project, the seriousness of one being leavened by the whimsy of the other. NSFW by reason of artistic nudity, but most highly recommended.