As you peacefully make your way through the winding roads and ridges of the Appalachian mountains, on the edge of state line between Virginia and West Virginia, you are likely to be overcome with the spruce, pine, and maple trees – the beauty of the Monongahela Forest. It’s not uncommon for a brown eyed doe to eye you from the corner of the road, cautious, but curious. It always seems like you’re in another world – back in time, a simpler state of being. And you aren’t imagining this – it is possible, however, that you are about to panic.
As you are able to see through those trees, you’ll see a white building complex. And then suddenly your cellphone and your radio will no longer work. This isn’t the X Files – this is Green Bank, West Virginia, population 143.
Welcome to the home of a major telescope belonging to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, world’s largest steerable radio telescope, named the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. The telescope weighs 17 million pounds, rolls about 2 acres wide, and stretches 485 feet into the air. Several smaller telescopes are dispersed around it in the vast 2,700 acres of parkland.
The telescope can hear sounds from hundreds of millions of miles away, therefore attracting some of the leading researchers in the world, but that means that you can’t have a wi-fi or a cell phone anywhere near it. It could seriously disturb the signals – and you will face a hefty fine if you do that. But, that’s not all that isn’t allowed; within a mile of the tower, you can’t have anything but a diesel vehicle – spark plugs destroy the signals and the scientists’ hunt for things like water on the moon.
About 20 homes rest right on the observatory property, and they have to sign waivers that they won’t have a microwave oven. But it’s no problem, the scientists laughingly say, shaking their heads. Jay Lockman, the principal scientist of the Green Bank Telescope, says it’s amazing how interested people are, not in the telescope, but in the little West Virginia town with no cell phones.
“For the last 5,000 years, human beings have managed to flourish without this, so to me it seems a little odd that people now find the absence of cell phones something worth discussing.”
Many town residents agree, preferring their cell-free zone and feeling disoriented when they go elsewhere and see everyone so absorbed in their phones, according to CNN. Residents relate feeling annoyed that they watch other people seemingly ignore their children, have zero conversation at dinner, and can’t understand what is so interesting about the cell phones others seems to live their lives by.
Their town has everything it needs – a store, a gas station, a school and a church, even one of the best libraries in the region. If they wish to visit a neighbor, they go knock on their door. They aren’t worried about if the break down – they know everyone in the community and agree anyone would help them. They can have internet – with either dial-up or Ethernet cable, but most say they don’t use it much.
While there have been a few people who left the town due to lack of wi-fi, for most folks, it’s cited as the number one reason they stay and they worry that the “secret will get out” about how wonderful a life with no cell phone truly is. However, there’s probably not a lot of cause for concern, as townspeople say that visitors seem to “freak out” if they can’t manipulate a cell phone for even an hour.
Great things are being accomplished in Green Bank, but you won’t hear about them by cell phone. You’ll have to take a jog with a neighbor or have coffee with a local there.
[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]