Life in the American Small Town Without Cellphones or Wifi

Blending high and low tech in Green Bank, West Virginia

Green Banks
Green Banks blends small-town life with the presence of radio astronomy.
Jarek Tuszyński/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / March 7, 2020 3:07 pm

In a world of perpetual connectedness, the idea of returning to a time where cellphones weren’t omnipresent and where the internet didn’t circulate through every aspect of our daily lives might seem appealing. But for the residents of Green Bank, West Virginia, that’s not a thought experiment or a kind of digital detox — it’s a facet of everyday life.

The residents of Green Bank haven’t taken a vow to avoid certain contemporary technologies. Instead, as Dan Levin explains in an article for The New York Times, Green Bank is in close proximity to the Green Bank Observatory — which, according to its website, “enables leading edge research at radio wavelengths by offering telescope, facility and advanced instrumentation access to the astronomy community as well as to other basic and applied research communities.”

In order for the observatory to operate correctly, the federal government established the National Radio Quiet Zone, where cellphone service is nowhere to be found and Wifi is prohibited. There are other regulations as well:

For those who live within 10 miles of the observatory, the limitations also include a ban on Bluetooth devices and microwaves, unless they are contained in a metal box, known as a Faraday cage, which blocks electromagnetic fields.

As an NPR article on the region from 2013 notes, there is a local radio station — but it “broadcasts at a low enough frequency to avoid being banned.”

It’s led to kids growing up without toxic online environments, people having more of a connection to the outside world — and a lot more pay phones in the town than one might expect. The result is a fascinating blend of high-tech and low-tech; the result is a singular place to live.

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