Nowadays, doing a “digital detox” has become quite trendy. Digital detoxing usually involves avoiding unnecessary Internet and phone usage, especially social media, for a few days to a week. Many people choose to do this on vacation, so they can stay present and enjoy their trip, or during the holidays, so they can fully appreciate their time with their loved ones. But for most of us, there are limits to digital detoxing—we might be able to deactivate our social media accounts for a few days, but we may still have to return to using them for work after. We might not want to put our phone on “Do Not Disturb” because we’re afraid to miss emergency calls from family members. Many of us use our smartphones for other important tasks, like navigating or managing our money, and totally disconnecting for even a couple days can prove impossible.
But what if you wanted to experience modern life without a smart phone or WiFi? What if you needed to get away for a little while—or you were ready to go to the extremes and ditch most technology for good—but you knew that living totally off-grid wasn’t for you, and you still wanted to enjoy the comforts of society? Is it even possible?
Well, if you want to experience this for yourself, you can take a road trip to the town of Green Bank, West Virginia, where cell phones, WiFi, and even microwaves are all banned. In fact, radio broadcasts or other technology that emits electromagnetic frequencies are banned, except for emergency communication purposes.
Why? It’s part of the National Radio Quiet Zone, which encompasses parts of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Green Bank is home to the largest fully directional radio telescope in the world, and WiFi and cell phones can interfere with the telescope. In some ways, it feels like you’re off the grid, but people in Green Bank can still enjoy plenty of modern conveniences: electricity, running water, owning cars and driving on paved roads, grocery stores, and landlines. It’s not quite like Amish living, but it’s kind of like going back in time to the 1980s.
Some people move to Green Bank because they want to disconnect and feel like they’re living in a simpler time, but others transplants say that they moved there because they were suffering from “electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” This is a controversial label, but people who say they have this condition report experiencing debilitating symptoms when they’re around cell phones or WiFi signals. They might have bad headaches, nausea, fatigue, numbness, or trouble sleeping. Studies on this condition have returned mixed results, and researchers are uncertain that the definitive cause of these symptoms is electromagnetic frequencies—but people who were suffering say that they’ve experienced major improvements after moving to Green Bank. Perhaps it’s placebo, but if their quality of life has increased, it’s easy to see why they would choose to stay and say goodbye to cell phones and WiFi.
The idea of living in a place like Green Bank forever might seem unfathomable to most people today. We are so tied to our technology that at most, we can imagine putting down the smartphones for a few days. And it’s not just for the sake of convenience—for many people, running a business or doing their job without technology today would be totally impossible. The funny thing is that most of our parents, all of our grandparents, and billions of people alive today lived just like the residents of Green Bank—and even today, many people are still even more disconnected from the rest of the world because of a lack of technology. But the fact that people have chosen to put down roots here, and feel much happier for doing so, is proof that being so connected doesn’t necessarily make our lives better.
Perhaps living in Green Bank does sound appealing to you, and you feel that the giving up your phone and WiFi would be a fair trade-off for a quieter, less stressful, cheaper lifestyle—no Internet or phone bill! Or maybe you know that you couldn’t live in Green Bank or a place like it for good, but you know that you need a real digital detox—not a half-hearted effort at staying away from your phone for a few days.
Well, if you know that you’d benefit from a few days without cell service or the Internet, there are some adorable cabins in Green Bank for visitors to spend a few nights. You can check out the science center and the massive telescope, explore the natural beauty of the surrounding area, and most importantly, spend a little time without a cell signal. These days, it’s becoming a luxury.