Health & Wellness

This town lives without cellphones, Wi-Fi: Meet Green Bank, West Virginia

Imagine making plans with your friends — by walking to their house to talk in person.

That’s the norm at Green Bank, West Virginia, where its 143 residents can’t rely on their cellphones or tablets to connect with friends and loved ones because all wireless devices are forbidden.

Located within a 13,000-square mile area known as the National Radio Quiet Zone, Green Bank houses the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which operates the world’s largest radio telescope.

“It's the study of the natural radio emissions that are coming from bodies in space,” explained Michael Holstine, the observatory’s business manager.

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Standing 485-feet tall and weighing nearly 17-million pounds, the telescope is so large that a college football stadium could fit inside the dish. It's also incredibly sensitive to electronic interference and, Holstine said, so powerful that it could pick up “the energy given off by a single snowflake hitting the ground.”

The telescope could pick up such signals “from 13 billion light years away,” he said.

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iPads are among the banned items in Green Bank, West Virginia, because they emit signals that interfere with the site's telescope.

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But to do so, radio, television and cellphone towers are not allowed. That means no cellphones, iPads, cordless phones, wireless headphones, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, remote control toys and even garage door openers, which all send out signals that interfere with the telescope’s work.

“In the vicinity of that telescope, they would all completely wipe out the astronomical signal,” Holstine said.

The town even has a surveillance truck that acts as a “radio police” to monitor radio frequencies.

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In Green Bank, residents rely on landlines to call each other. They can still surf the Web, but must use dial-up or Ethernet cable connections to do so. While many may see the town as a throwback to days of yore, residents point out you can’t miss what you never had.

Teenager Barry Bias said he doesn’t feel deprived because he lacks instant access to social media accounts. He also doesn't mind that he can’t text his buddies when he needs them.

“I have school up here and you can go talk to them most of the time," he said.

Dallas Vandevender pointed out how easy it is to make plans with friends: “You go see them.”

And if they’re not home?

“You just go around until you find them,” he said. “It’s not that big a town.”

Residents say they are happy with their quiet, unplugged lifestyle. It allows them to connect in ways that actually matter, said Sherry Chestnut.

“You know what? Your cell phone isn't looking at a person eye-to-eye, or going to their house and speaking and just shaking their hand or giving them a hug and saying, ‘How are how are you today?’” she said.

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Follow TODAY.com writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter at @eunkim.

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