What if you had to make plans with friends by calling them on the landline, or better yet, showing up at their house?
That’s the case in Green Bank, West Virginia—population 143.
The town sits inside the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square mile area that limits radio frequency and is home to one of the largest radio telescopes in the world.
This means no cell phones, Wi-Fi, tablets, baby monitors or even microwave ovens.
The energy of Wi-Fi or cell phone signals can interfere with the telescope’s readings and trip the receivers at the government’s nearby Sugar Grove research facility. The telescope, called the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), is so large that a college football stadium could fit inside the dish.
“The telescope has the sensitivity equivalent to a billionth of a billionth of a millionth of a watt… the energy given off by a single snowflake hitting the ground,” National Radio Astrology Observatory Business Manager Mike Holstine told the BBC. “Anything man-made would overwhelm that signal.”
Residents get by with either dial-up Internet or Ethernet cable. Almost every radio station is white noise, except for Allegheny Mountain Radio—a station that broadcasts at a low enough frequency to exist in the zone. Only first responders use radios.
“We still have communications. I mean, it’s just … older. Dial-up telephones. We still have phone booths,” Chuck Niday, an engineer for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, told NPR.
The area has also seen an influx of “electrosensitives,” people who believe electromagnetic frequencies are the source of their illnesses, according to CNN.
If it sounds like the ultimate early 90s getaway, it kind of is.
Mobile technology and constant connectivity has completely changed the way we exist as humans in our day-to-day.
Smartphones are the Swiss Army Knife of the 21st century. We have a phone, a laptop, a GPS system, a flashlight, a wallet, a camera, a video recorder, a music player and a library of books all in one hand.
It’s changed our ability to focus and the quality of our face-to-face interactions.
Or this, for example. A photo that is so radical it went ~viral~
We are so plugged in—there’s an actual term called nomophobia, the fear of being without your phone. There’s even an institution in Southern California that provides THERAPY to individuals with this specific form of anxiety.
Of course, the dependence on smartphones isn’t news to you (and it’s not all bad).
Still, I can’t help but wonder: when was the last time my life was “quiet?”
I work for a news organization and my job is the digital side of things. Even if I try to unplug for a bit, it’s short-lived. The convenience of the Internet will always follow you. We’re never completely alone anymore.
And the urge to Google something is just too strong.
The science of the “Quiet Zone” telescope is interesting. But the impact it has on the people who live there is even more facsinating—and enviable.
“When I watch a soccer game, every parent on that field is watching the kids playing soccer, nobody is looking at their cell phone, no one is worrying about that,” GBT site director Karen O’Neill said.
If they get a new email, they have absolutely no idea. And remember, they aren’t completely cut off from the world.
“We do have broadband internet at our homes,” O’Neill added. “We can access the internet the same as anyone – the difference is that when I leave my desk the internet doesn’t follow me.”
I’ve heard stories of people sitting down on a bench and doing nothing.
Just staring, alone in their thoughts.
Can you imagine?