The Stahl Farms, a Dariusleut Hutterite colony in the state of Washington, embraces many modern technologies, particularly those that will improve their agricultural production. The colony, near the town of Ritzville, about 57 miles southwest of Spokane, has been able to expand its cultivated acres from 3,000 in 1980 when it began to 16,000 acres today.
In an article published last week in the Spokane daily newspaper, the Spokesman-Review, journalist Caitlin Tompkins describes her visit to the colony and their evolving relationship with the latest technological devices. John Stahl, Sr, epitomized the contrasts of old and new technology as he sat at a handmade wooden desk working with his iPhone 6.
Stahl, the President of Stahl Farms, is unapologetic about his use of recent technological devices. He tells the reporter that the Hutterites must use the latest technology in order to maximize their efficiency and survive. While radios and televisions have long been forbidden in the colony, access to the Internet, particularly with smartphones, might pose contradictions to their ethical values.
Stahl said technologies such as improved irrigation systems that clearly will assist the Hutterite society will be accepted. However, computers, smartphones, and the social media raise different challenges. The computers in the school have been equipped with blocking programs that prevent access to inappropriate or violent materials—the “corrupt areas of the Internet,” as he calls them.
But monitoring what individual adults do with their smartphones poses ethical dilemmas, Stahl believes, since such controls would represent an invasion of privacy. The colony response to smartphones is to attempt to educate the young people on appropriate uses of the devices. An honor system attempts to guide their uses by everyone.
Michelle Stahl, a niece of John Stahl’s and a ninth grader in the colony school, told the journalist that smartphones are not allowed in the school itself. While the kids sometimes talk with one another, there really are not many distractions. She told Ms. Thompkins that she has a phone, which she may use in case of an emergency, but she prefers to talk with her friends in person rather than to meet up on Facebook. She admits, however, that she would like to go on Instagram to look at photos.
The writer also met Martin Stahl, a nephew of John Stahl. Martin works in the farm warehouse, and he is something of a self-taught technological expert. He has taught himself how to operate and fix all the farming equipment at the colony with assistance from videos he has watched on his smartphone, plus at times the help of older members. He says he has been fascinated with technology since he was a child, and he likes to keep learning new things about machines and electronics.
John Stahl, the colony president, just upgraded from his old cell phone to his new iPhone 6 a couple months ago. He says it keeps him in contact with the employees and business partners of the operation, and it allows him to do research easily. When he first bought it, he was only aware of about 10 percent of its capabilities. He tells Ms. Thompkins that he “was dumber than a post” when he bought it, but he’s learned a lot. For instance, it amazes him that he can obtain information about a piece of equipment before buying it.
He argues that the place of technology in the Hutterite colony will only grow. Some of the older members see devices such as smartphones as harmful, but he disagrees. He sees them as advantageous. He feels the world is growing more high tech, so the Hutterites might as well go that way too.
Janzen and Stanton (2010), who published the standard, current reference work on the Hutterites, support Ms. Thompkins’ portrayal of the Hutterite acceptance of technology. But while the Hutterites will develop more effective agricultural production methods from changing technology, Janzen and Stanton insist that they will remain committed to their “Christ-based communal life (p.4)” and their firmly ethical, peaceful beliefs.
Mr. Stahl says he admires the attempts of the Amish to preserve their distance from technological changes. He contrasts his colony with the approaches that he believes characterize the Amish. Technologies will continue to change, he says. “We can’t stay with the horse-and-buggy tradition if we want to survive in this old world.”
While the Dariusleut Hutterites in Washington may have a more accepting attitude toward current technologies than many Old Order Amish groups, their basic approaches appear to be remarkably similar. According to Kidder and Hostetler (1990), the Amish avoid a lot of technology in order to preserve their communities: any new device or convenience that some members desire is carefully examined by the entire community to see if it would foster differences between families, create tensions, or produce undue dependence on the outside world.
The folks at the Stahl Farm may accept devices that the Amish would reject, but both, to judge by the news story last week, examine carefully the benefits and potential disadvantages that each technology might pose before accepting or rejecting it.