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Khazan: You said that there are more people leaving now and coming back. Khazan: How long did it take for you to get better? I felt comfortable right as I was graduating with my associate’s degree. There were a few times I would call a friend, bawling my eyes out, saying I’m going to quit, I can’t get through this any more, because of homework and trying to figure out APA-style formatting. There were a few times where I thought, “Why am I doing this? Khazan: What do people who didn’t grow up Amish not appreciate enough, in your view? Gingerich: When the Internet is not working, I lose it. I went to Nepal last year for a mission trip and over there, at first it felt great to be able to be away from technology.
Are you saying that more people are leaving the Amish, period, or that the people who do leave have more to talk about when they visit their Amish relatives? Recently, there has been a big division in the church and it has caused a huge uproar with different families. Then I moved away to Stephenville (Texas) for my bachelor’s, and I didn't know anybody in Stephenville, so I was alone all over again, making new friends and getting used to a bigger university., just fall asleep. Why not just work and forget about a college degree? Gingerich: They have more freedom, and sometimes I feel like people don't appreciate the choices they can make. Gingerich: Maybe, because I don’t like playing games. But then toward the end, I was thinking, I just can't wait to go back to the U. where I can be connected to technology again and see what all is happening.
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. The rapid pace of technology, she says, is forcing the Amish community to grapple with big, existential questions like it never has before.
I was practicing the letters, and I couldn’t figure out why some of them are big and some of them are little and why aren't they all the same size? I thought I had to hit caps lock every time I wanted a big letter. Gingerich: I think I looked up Are those websites or apps? 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.
It took me a long time to be able to type efficiently. Gingerich: What got me the most was that my parents never talked to us about stuff like that. And that causes problems when there is a wedding, for example, because then some of the family members are not included as much in the wedding party as they would have been if they had stayed. Khazan: So you didn’t know English when you left, really?
A fellow rebellious teenager had given her a cellphone, which she kept hidden in her room until the right moment. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.