Amish country, in Kelly’s telling, is a version of the hippie-nerd Maker Faire without the colorful clothing. The Amish may not have cars or buttons, but they do have ‘alpha-geeks,’ ‘early adopters’ and enough clever retro-futuristic contraptions to do any steampunk proud. Behind one electricity-free farmhouse, Kelly finds a workshop vibrating with ‘an ear-cracking racket of power sanders, power saws, power planers, power drills and so on,’ all powered by a diesel generator driving a compressed-air system known locally as ‘Amish electricity.’ Everywhere he goes, Amish D.I.Y.-ers show off ‘their geekiest hacks.’
The Amish, Kelly says, are the ones who stand athwart technological history and shout ‘Maybe!’ They reject cars and credit cards but are enthusiastic users of disposable diapers, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Different sects, like the ultra-strict Old Order Amish, take different approaches. But in general they make a distinction between technologies that will strengthen the community — like genetically modified corn, which is easier to harvest using older equipment, and thus helps keeps family farms together — and those that might weaken it, like cellphones, which, along with artificial insemination and solar power, are still being debated.