Why Are Our Pets Amish?

In 1995 only one in ten Americans had a mobile phone, and all they were good for was making expensive and unreliable calls. Think about how technology has made life easier over the last twenty years. We now have the ability, based on our own personal preferences, to carry in our pockets and purses a post office, a library, a camera, a TV, maps, directions, calendars, notepads, flashlight, music player, photo album, watch, calculator, and so much more in one device. That same device can also connect you to all the information in the world and make phone calls. It is rare in 2015 to know someone who does not use most of this technology. The fact is more people in the world have mobile phones than toilets.

Throughout our history together, we have been quick to provide our animal companions with our latest technology. Dogs have been human companions since the Stone Age; cats were first domesticated ten thousand years ago, the same time as wheat and barley were domesticated. And throughout 99% of our harmonious existence, our animal companions have benefited from human innovation: When we made shelters, they got shelters; advances in health and medicine quickly became available to our pets; not long after the invention of the automobile, dogs were hanging their heads out of car windows and drooling.

So mobile technology is used by most of the humans on this planet and in the past humans have applied new technology to our pets. What prevents us from sharing mobile phone technology with our pets? It is as if we just arbitrarily picked a point in time in which to stop adopting new technology for our pets... as if our Pets are Amish. As neat as that theory is, it does not accurately describe the truth about our pets or the Amish.

To the casual observer, it may look like the Amish just picked a point in time to stop adopting new technology, but that is not true. Amish churches evaluate technology and only allow new technologies that are deemed to not be a threat.

Amish see threats in technologies which provide easy contact with worldly ideas and values (television, automobiles), or those which may break down the family or community, by serving as distractions or eliminating the need of relying on others in one’s community. Amish also feel that certain labor-saving technologies take more than they give, robbing their children of the ability to learn the value of hard work, for example. (from amishamerica.com)

The Amish have values they uphold by managing the adoption of technology. Could it be that we are subconsciously limiting the development and adoption of mobile technology for our pets because we want to uphold values? Are we afraid that new technologies will “take more than they give” us and our pets?

It is certainly plausible that on some level we have not taken mobile technology to our pets in any meaningful way because we see that technology as a threat to what we believe is the ideal life for our pets. We have a wealth of knowledge about animal behavior. We are surrounded by inexpensive sensor and communication components. Yet we seem to shun this technology and choose to interact only in traditional ways with our pets.

Is building a fence better than using a wireless fence that can be modified and transported anywhere? Is tethering yourself to your dog with a rope better than an invisible leash? Do we have to be in the same physical location to communicate with our pets? Do we have to be in the same location for our pets to communicate with us? The answer for most of us is “no”. We, both pet owners and pets, deserve better.

Acknowledging that we may be delaying or blocking the application of mobile technology to our pets because we subconsciously want to keep certain values or lifestyles is the first step to opening up what is possible. An individual can make his or her own choices about which pet technologies to adopt, but at least they will have a choice.

By applying technology in conjunction with the latest research in animal behavior and applying it responsibly and ethically, we can create products that improve animal welfare and make the joy of owning a pet as convenient as possible.

New pet technology could be abused, but that is true of all technology. It will be the unfortunate and hopefully rare case where an owner allows pet wearables to replace live human-pet interaction, for example, having the home and pet so wired that the pet could feasibly survive at home for days and weeks at a time without human contact. In the vast majority of cases, new pet wearable technology will bring pets and owners closer, providing more opportunities for joy, while reducing the less desirable aspects of pet ownership.

We are all like the Amish in some ways. We are sometimes slow to adopt new technology or completely shun others because it just does not fit with our values. Take-out food dates back to antiquity, but even when call ahead orders became possible with the telephone, no doubt many continued to order in-person. Today, some people prefer the phone order to the online or mobile app order, while others still like to order in person. The freedom to make our own technology choices is beautiful. For us and our pets, we must make sure we are open to what is possible in order to allow the best choices.