The ‘Quiet Zone’ Refuge in the United States is being invaded by digital life.
Yvonne Wallech enjoys the digital reprieve and sense of togetherness in her small US town, where cell phone service is essentially prohibited and visitors flock to seek refuge in the silence.
She has internet at her home in Green Bank, West Virginia, but there are no pings, dings, or bells when she leaves the house and is not using someone else’s connection.
“Coming here and being able to break away from it (internet) if you want,” the 59-year-old proprietor of a gift shop told AFP, “there is a certain purification that comes to you, that gives you time to clear your mind.”
But Green Bank is changing: Wifi is no longer officially forbidden, but it is becoming more popular, property values are rising, and not everyone agrees on what comes next for this ostensibly digital-age haven.
It is a place of international fascination despite its small population of about 200 people and secluded position among rolling hills, lush forests, and farmland about four hours’ drive from the US capital Washington.
That’s because it’s home to the Green Bank Observatory, which has been in operation for almost six decades and requires radio silence in order to stare far into space and see stars and black holes.
In 1958, the US government established the National Radio Quiet Zone to protect the observatory’s work as well as the operations of a nearby espionage post.
In the 13,000 square miles (almost 34,000 square kilometers) that encircle Green Bank, the zone imposes limits and control on man-made radio waves, with the most stringent restrictions on electronic noise generators like WiFi routers.
Despite restrictions that legally allow violators to be fined $50, locals claim that wireless internet has been more widely available in recent years and that they have not faced any consequences.
Locals obtained their Netflix or Facebook fix via hardwired internet connections even before WiFi’s spread, but cell service has remained non-existent under the guidelines.
Officials from the West Virginia Department of Tourism tout this peculiar feature of the state as the “perfect digital detox.”
“In today’s world, where we can’t go more than a minute or two without hearing the beep or buzz of a technology item, it’s the spot you can go to get away from it all,” said Chelsea Ruby, the state’s tourism secretary.
It’s a pitch that resonates in the United States, where 85 percent of adults say they own a smartphone, according to Pew Research. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.