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Although cell phones are being used increasingly in many Hutterite colonies, they still may be against the rules. A front page story in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, September 4, discusses the uses, and the potential disruptions, of cell phones in one central Montana colony.

While some of the colonies are quite restrictive and allow only a few cell phones for everyone to share, many others, such as the Martinsdale Hutterite Colony near Martinsdale, Montana, recognize that residents are able to obtain them fairly easily.

They appear to be quickly gaining popularity. One 35 year old woman at Martinsdale, Elsie Wipf, sent 150 text messages in the first two days that she had her personal cell phone. She continues to send hundreds of messages per month, mostly to people within the colony but also to family and friends outside. She keeps the phone in her skirt and uses it while doing her chores—she can fit in a few messages while she weeds a row of beets in the colony’s vegetable garden.

However, Elsie’s mother, Mary Wipf, says that her daughter is “constantly on the cell phone and not doing what she’s supposed to be doing,” a comment that Elsie laughs off. Her father, Paul Wipf, the colony preacher, also feels that there are too many of the devices and they distract people from their work.

In the opinions of some Hutterite elders, the cell phones present more problems than just wasting time. Cell phones provide access to the Web, which can be very harmful and divisive, they feel. Nearly all of the Hutterite colonies ban access to the Internet. While elders recognize that the use of phones for colony business is quite important, in their communal society individual ownership of material objects is limited. Highly desirable personal goods like cell phones, possessed by only some of the residents, could be disruptive.

Since individuals within the colonies usually do not have the personal sources of funding to pay for cell phone service, they are typically purchased by others who have left the colonies. Elsie received hers from a former boyfriend who left more than a decade ago. Younger residents feel that the devices are quite reasonable technological additions to colony life—as the outside world changes, they need to change too.

A major issue identified by the article is that use of the cell phones may promote the temptations of life in the outside world —jobs, money, and consumer goods. A young nephew of Elsie’s left the colony last April when he learned, from his phone conversations, about the jobs and possibilities awaiting him if he left also.

So he went into Billings one day with some others from his colony and split off from the group. He called his mother to tell her he was not returning, and continues to call her daily. He still finds life on the outside to be attractive, though he misses some aspects of his former life within the colony. He is not sure if he would have been tempted to leave if he had not had his cell phone.

The article mentions that the Hutterites have many similar beliefs as the Amish, though the former are more willing to use technological devices that benefit the colonies. The Journal does not mention that the Amish in Lancaster County are experiencing a comparable growth in cell phone use. The paper also does not address the issue of whether increasing cell phone use may affect their core beliefs such as peacefulness, nonresistance and nonviolence.