Khazan: Who picked up on the other end when you called? A lady that picked me up from the little town, the day that I left. Khazan: Where did you get your first non-Amish outfit? Khazan: Do you remember the first time you went on the Internet? I had no idea that my grandfather was such a horrible person. Gingerich: Because three of his sisters left, and I’m thinking it was all because of their dad. The people have a choice of staying where they’re at now or they can leave and join a different church, with less rules, I guess. Gingerich: Freedom to be able to go work outside the community, to be able to use a driver to go to work instead of horse and buggy. Gingerich: I had a difficult time speaking English, mainly because I was scared of what I was saying.
They can make whatever choice they want, but still they're complaining that they don't have enough, not enough options. For example, the Amish have more than one church, but if you join a different church than the rest of your family, you get shunned. Khazan: Like, maybe reality TV, or i Phone games, or ... Because it feels like I’m naked or something without being constantly updated on what’s going on.
And here, you can go to a Baptist church one week and the Methodist church another week and you don't even officially have to be a member of the church. Khazan: And what tech things do typical Americans think are very cool, but aren’t that cool in the grand scheme of things? Khazan: In your book you describe the Amish courtship style in graphic detail.
It sounds like people meet each other as teenagers at church sing-alongs. But if you like someone you immediately are supposed to spend the night in their bed, but not necessarily have sex.
Was it a weird adjustment, to use a website to find a boyfriend?
When Emma Gingerich left her Amish community in Eagleville, Missouri, she was 18 and had an eighth-grade education. The life that awaited most Amish women—one of cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing—never appealed to her.
She wanted an education and the freedom to choose her own path. She grew up without light bulbs, but she met her boyfriend of seven months on Plenty of Fish. When people ask where she’s from, she responds, wryly, “Missouri.”Apparently Emma is not the only Amish person lured by a freer, more connected life. I googled my grandfather and I found information about him that I just couldn’t believe. Apparently, he was accused of doing some bad stuff, but the law couldn’t do anything about it because he was Amish.
When she voiced her feelings to a family friend, he snuck her the phone number of an ex-Amish woman who would help with her escape. The rapid pace of technology, she says, is forcing the Amish community to grapple with big, existential questions like it never has before. They don’t use it, but I guess there's been so many people leaving and then going back home, so they're becoming more familiar with it. Khazan: What did you think of it when your GED program first said, here's this system of web pages where you can look up anything? I found a picture of him on the Internet and I just thought, I can’t believe he’s my grandfather.
A fellow rebellious teenager had given her a cellphone, which she kept hidden in her room until the right moment. Emma’s experience of entering this world of screens suddenly, and all at once, offers a fresh perspective on how our lives have changed since the digital revolution—for the better, and for the worse. We talked about how her views of technology have evolved ever since her escape, and how the Internet helped her unearth a dark family secret. At the time that I left, I just had a little cellphone that I was using as an aid to help me get out. I really don’t know how all that stuff got on the Internet in the first place.
One cold January day in 2006, at in the afternoon, Emma took off her bonnet and walked out the door of her family’s small farmhouse. Now living in a suburb of Dallas, Emma blends in well. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. I didn't know how to use it but I figured it out when the time came. I was in shock for days after I found that on the Internet.
She left a note for her parents: The life she found could not be more different. Accustomed to making supper for her family of 16, she learned to cook for one. She wears brightly colored blouses and a full face of makeup. Olga Khazan: What technology were you already using when you left? Another person that had been Amish and had left gave me the cellphone. Khazan: How did you figure out how to use it when the time came? Gingerich: I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear anybody because I had never talked to somebody on the phone. That encouraged me to look more and more and more, to see if there was more stuff out there about my family that I don’t know about. Gingerich: He was accused of sleeping with his daughters.
Gingerich: I just dialed a number and figured out what button to push to make it call out. [I thought], “ All kinds of things were going through my head. Khazan: How did that affect you, seeing information about your granddad on the Internet? Some of them do have a phone outside the house in a little shack. The thing is, if people do split off to a more a liberal church, the ones that stay, family members are divided, even. Gingerich: The family that I stayed with in Missouri for a few days, they knew the people in Harlingen, so they got me in touch.