If one person’s paradise is another’s punishment, one West Virginia town is sure to divide opinions on its big step out of the twenty-first century.
Modest Green Bank, WV boasts America’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory—a complex so stuffed with delicate instruments that even the slightest touch by electromagnetic waves could ruin the fun. Solution? Wiping out everyday technology for everyone living in the surrounding 13,000 square miles.
That’s right: No WiFi. No smartphones. Not even a microwave. Residents of the area are required to sign agreements that they will not own or operate any technology that would violate the National Radio Quiet Zone’s strict requirements.
Of course, most Americans would feel incapacitated by the rules. But public concerns—some more tinged with conspiracy theories than others—continue to swirl around the impact of electromagnetism on the delicate biological equipment known as our human bodies. In fact, a few dozen people have moved to the area hoping to escape what they believe are negative effects from electricity or radio waves on their bodies. Although there’s still no proven relationship between cell phones and cancer, we just don’t have enough data over time to draw conclusions or make projections about the big health picture in a fully networked world.
As a result, the issue has become ripe for dystopian nightmares, especially among the deeply disturbed. In 2013, ex-Navy serviceman Aaron Alexis, who claimed the military was penetrating his mind with extremely low-frequency electromagnetic waves, killed 12 victims at the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis’s case has become folklore among those in the community of so-called “targeted individuals”—people who are convinced of a malevolent secret plot to conduct psychological warfare on innocent civilians.
For the rest of us, “unplugging” seems destined to remain most closely associated with a peaceful but brief vacation.