The Land without Cell Service
To most, the idea of being without mobile tech is unthinkable. How will people reach me? What if I’m running late and need to text someone to hold on? How will people know what I ate for lunch if I can’t Instagram it? While the global geography of places without cell service and wifi access continues to shrink, there is one American city where cell and wifi signals are nonexistent. Green Bank WV is a tiny town (pop 143) located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about one and half hours drive from nowhere. It is the home of the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest radio telescope which listens to sounds in outer space and collects data from the solar system. Because of its need for a very hushed environment, the telescope is surrounded by a National Radio Free Zone, a 13K sq mile electromagnetic signal free zone. In the zone, there is a ban on cell service, wifi, radio and even microwave ovens.
Journalist and self-professed “modern day technology junkie” Dan Lieberman spent one week in Green Bank and shared his experience on Fusion.net. Predictably, he had a hard time being without access to instant communication and information. Over the course of his trip, he made list of survival tips for living in world without mobile tech, things such as getting information from real people, not being late for appointments and using a real map.
While initially things were rough going, he had this to say about the end of the trip:
I had finally broken my habit of reaching for my cell phone every chance I got. It took the entire week to realize that being freed from my tech addiction was a good thing. I was listening to people we interviewed, really listening, instead of having one eye on my phone for texts and emails. I was present.
It should be noted that Green Bank, and other places in the Radio Free Zone, are not offline by any stretch. Ethernet and coaxial cables go a long way to keeping people opening new tabs and channel surfing. However, I suspect the instances of people walking and texting down the street are few and far between.
The ability to reach anyone and find out about anything at any time via mobile tech and wifi-enabled devices is indubitably an amazing thing. And every now and again we have an important communication to make or piece of information to obtain. But more often than not the communication and information is not that important. It’s certainly not important enough to justify the approximately 150 times a day the average cellphone user checks his or her phone. It’s stuff that can wait. And it’s stuff that is unlikely to be more important than what’s in front of us, whether that’s a friend, a streetscape or a book. In his 2009 TED talk, Renny Gleeson summed it up well. He said, “When you’re standing with someone, and you’re on your mobile device, effectively what you’re saying to them is, ‘You are not as important as, literally, almost anything that could come to me through this device.’”
Read Dan’s full account here. And today, try putting down your device every now and again. Whoever it is you want to communicate with, whatever it is that you want to know, chances are it can wait.