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.Khazan: The concept of phones, you were familiar with that? But after it was done, I felt pretty good about it, that I had accomplished it. I enjoy looking at different hashtags on Instagram and looking at pictures from all around the world. 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?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’ve had a hard time expressing myself because I was so fearful thinking I’m being selfish if I do.
But I found out if I communicated right, it makes my life easier, and it makes life easier for other people because I’m not grumpy.
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?
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.
Gingerich: Some people donated clothes, which were way too big for me, to start with. I went to a thrift store first, because I didn’t have much money. Gingerich: I wanted to learn how to type, so I pulled up a Word document. I always wanted to be one of those people who didn't have to look at the keyboard. Gingerich: I started taking GED classes four or five months after I left. Khazan: What are some of your favorite websites now? I didn’t like him ever, while we were growing up, I hated going to his house because he was such a mean guy, but after I read some of that stuff, I thought, “Wow, no wonder my dad is so upset that I left.”I almost felt sorry for my dad at that point, because I think he probably blamed himself for not being able to keep me there. And my dad was not near the horrible person that his dad was, so he probably just couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave. I can just say what I think it is: Some people want a different lifestyle. And then there’s people who say, “No you can’t do that, that’s wrong,” and then they shun people. Khazan: So the thing that people want that’s different is more freedom? Worrying that I was saying something wrong, worrying that people wouldn’t understand me and I would have to repeat it. Gingerich: I don’t think it really hit me until I started my bachelor’s degree. I would wake up the next day and feel like, what was I crying about again? Khazan: Has technology ever failed you in a certain way?
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.
I’ve had guys who were interested in dating me, but they would never call me, and I don’t like that.
I dated a guy for nine months in Stephenville, and we never once talked on the phone until the day after we broke up.
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.