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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.
And then I got back on Plenty of Fish and [eventually] met my boyfriend. One thing that me and my boyfriend are doing is we don’t text much at all.
I don’t think he wanted to, but I also don’t know why I didn’t make the effort to talk to him on the phone.
I guess because I never saw him talking on it—except to his mom.
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?
I just don’t have the energy to try to continue being closer to them if they don’t want me there.
Khazan: Do you have to wear Amish clothes when you go visit them?
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.
Gingerich: I really enjoy having the ability to share my faith, or my happiness, or share whatever to others, and not feel like I can’t do that because then I'm considered worldly.
Because in the Amish, they don’t really share anything about themselves, how they feel, how mad they are. For the Amish, they just keep it inside and move on.
They’re scared to talk to him, they want to just text. Khazan: When’s the last time you talked to your family? That part is hard because I would love to see that. Khazan: Would you consider moving to Maine and still not being Amish, but just visiting your Amish sisters more often?