We’re not Amish, we just don’t have a TV

I grew up in Goshen, Indiana, a college town of about 20,000 people with many Amish and conservative Mennonites in the surrounding communities. Seeing horse-drawn buggies parked at the local Wal-marts (yes, there was one on each side of town) was not uncommon. I learned to love the simple quilt designs and homemade Dutch food, while appreciating the business and common sense displayed by those selling their wares.

Last month at the STC Summit, I had a great walk back through time, as if I was visiting an old neighborhood. Like many other attendees, I went across the street from the Philadelphia conference center to the market for lunch. Much to my surprise, many merchants were wearing conservative Mennonite prayer bonnets and dressed in handmade plain clothing, no buttons! I was immediately taken back to my childhood home in northern Indiana. The marketplace in Philly reminded me of visits with my parent and shopping in a large market in a town called Shipshewana. Has anyone else had such a moment of juxtaposition?

To further my reminiscing of my childhood closeness to the Plain orders, the first day of the conference, I read Howard Rheingold’s Wired magazine article, Look Who’s Talking, from 1999. The subtitle is “The Amish are famous for shunning technology. But their secret love affair with the cell phone is causing an uproar.” It’s about the Amish relationship with technology and community. A great read!

I was reminded of a discussion with one of my cousins. We didn’t have a TV for a few years when I was in fifth grade or so, and these cousins from Michigan inquired if we were Amish! My response? No, we’re not Amish, just taking some time off from TV ownership. 🙂

So imagine if you will my discovery of Clay Shirky’s blog entry, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus. In it he leads you to discover that Wikipedia’s creation and ongoing editing took about 100 million hours of human thought. Sounds like a lot of time, right? Many people ask, how does anyone have that much spare time to edit wikis, write blog entries, comment on social networking sites, and so on? Well, guess what. In the US alone, 200 billion hours of human time are spent watching television. Staggering thought.

My few childhood years without a television didn’t amount to any huge projects being completed, although I would guess I read faster and more hungrily because of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against TV. I just choose to watch what I want when I want to. Our Tivo has been the best enabler of TV when I want it, and having the shows I want always available when it’s convienent to watch them. RSS feeds are like Tivo for me – web content when I want it, in abundance.

So that’s my story of going from surrounded by Amish and their considerations for technology in their community to technical writer considering the impact of collaboration and conversation and community on my role in the world of participatory media.

Am I to be a content curator or a community manager? Rachel Happe has a great blog entry titled, “Social Media is not Community” which brought a lot of clarity to my thoughts about the difference between the two roles. Thank you, Rachel! I don’t know yet where my role lies, but it’s a grand time to be reading and writing about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  • July 11, 2008 - 7:38 am | Permalink

    Anne – really interesting read. I actually grew up without a TV… and learned as a result that it was for me to go find what I thought was interesting rather than take whatever a broadcaster wanted me to find interesting…which is where we are getting to online and it comes with a subtle mind shift that is not always obvious.

    I consider my blog to be socially-enabled (through comments) content – but something that I more or less direct. I don’t facilitate a community – people come and go and they don’t really have a conversation with each other that is off topic from what I am posting. Building a community would require much more time, effort, and tools which I don’t have the time to do on my personal blog and would probably involve a lot less content creation and more content solicitation from members.

    Not sure if that helps but it is an interesting conversation and one that I think needs a little more separation and clarity.

    Thanks for the feedback and link!


  • July 11, 2008 - 8:54 am | Permalink

    Hi Rachel –
    Thanks for sharing your TV-less upbringing and the perspective it gives you still!

    It’s funny, as a parent I can’t bring myself to remove TV completely from our house (besides, my husband wouldn’t go for it at all, hee hee). But at least my kids know that TV content can be stored for later. Small comfort, but they are growing up with lots of different perspectives than I have. 🙂

    I tell you, I heave a sigh of relief that my blog doesn’t have to be a full-fledged community. Great description of the difference, much appreciated!

  • catherine
    July 11, 2008 - 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I too grew up without television. I was often asked, so what did you do instead? I rather rudely would reply, I read and learned to think for myself. There’s some truth in that. I’ve had a tv since I was 26, and regret it. To this day I am still appalled at how much time I waste watching tv, but it’s like a drug, hard to quit.

  • July 13, 2008 - 6:45 am | Permalink


    My family pretty much gave up TV over a year ago. Quite by accident, actually. We were replacing the flooring in our living room and dining room, and the TV was put away. It never came back out. To be honest, the only things I miss are BBC World News and Formula One. Other than that, life has been pretty darned good without TV (even though we didn’t watch that much to being with).

    Funny thing is, though, it doesn’t feel like I have more time to do things …

  • Colleen
    July 14, 2008 - 8:59 am | Permalink

    Hi Anne,

    I did go to the Marketplace and brought home some goodies from the Mennonite bakery – yum! In defense of television, I have to say, I do like to unwind in front of the TV with my hubby – but I learned a lot about cooking from Food Network! HGTV, TLC, Food Network, History Channel – these are all great resources. Not to mention my favorite finance shows. Just as good as the Internet, IMHO.

  • July 15, 2008 - 7:59 am | Permalink

    Hi Catherine – Yep, for me, that’s where Tivo helped a lot. I guess your drug analogy means Tivo does my dosing for me, ha ha.

    Scott – Great story! In my case, our TV broke and we never fixed it. But yep, no major other accomplishments that I remember. Ah well. 🙂

    Hi Colleen – I do like TV. After a few seasons of Deadliest Catch I’m quite certain I’ll never be a crab fisherman! So there are career education opportunities in addition to the ones you list. 🙂

  • July 28, 2008 - 6:13 am | Permalink

    Anne, Interesting! I attend a Mennonite church here in Austin and have many friends from that area. Most of my friends are from Mennonite backgrounds and moved to Austin because of jobs. A few left the Amish and became Mennonite and others found the Mennonite church because of Pacifism.

    As for TV… I have always had a mixed relationship to TV as it sounds like most people commenting do. When my husband and I were first married (late 70s) we did not have a TV and people felt sorry for us and eventually we were given one. We didn’t watch it much, especially since we didn’t pay for Cable and so could only get a few channels poorly. I don’t remember missing anything.


  • August 10, 2010 - 11:35 am | Permalink

    Your post created a time/place juxtaposition for me, Anne, as I recalled how anxious I would become whenever my father would say, “What in the Land of Goshen, Don!” It always meant that I was in trouble for some reason. The nearest plain equivalent of the today might be “What in Hell,” which leads to the illogical suggestion that Goshen is an expletive, which I am fairly certain is not the case.

    More to your point, though, is that I’ve gone on voluntary leave of Cable, and have been getting by on OTA (antenna) channels. Not only is the quality generally incredibly better (Oh, how dish and cable compress their stuff), moreover my wife and I have discovered some very good public TV shows, including a Create channel that rivals the usual cable Home and Garden variety shows.

    The neat closure on all this is that the Create channel has an Internet site that connects with popular how-to web sites, so I often end up switching over to the Web to drill down for more information behind a show I’m watching. “Convergence” used to be a buzzword back when this was harder to do (I recall hearing the term back in my dial up days). With my LCD connected to an HTPC, I’ve got the best of both worlds at the flick of a button on one of the remotes. Too many remotes is now the new problem to solve, but still, I think the new convergence between OTA TV and web content is a good thing.

  • Leave a Reply