Imagine if you lived in a place where you couldn’t use Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook on your phone. You couldn’t text your friends. You couldn’t even watch YouTube videos, unless you were watching on a broadband-wired computer. Why? Because you lived in a quiet zone, where Wi-Fi is both unavailable and banned and where cellphone signals are nonexistent.
Welcome to Green Bank, W.Va., home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, which requires near radio silence.
How do you think your life would be different? Would it be better in some ways? Worse in others?
In “No Cell Phone, No Wi-Fi, No Problem. Growing Up Inside America’s ‘Quiet Zone,’” Dan Levin writes:
GREEN BANK, W.Va. — Viral dance memes and dance challenges on TikTok largely bypass Green Bank, W.Va. So do viral sensations like augmented reality filters on Snapchat and Instagram.
And when a Facebook fad had people all over the globe dumping ice water on their heads a few summers ago, Charity Warder, now a senior at Pocahontas County High School, was late to the game.
Sure, Charity has an iPhone, but she uses it mostly as a clock and a calculator. She makes phone calls from a landline, and she rarely texts her friends. Texting and driving? “It’s not a thing here,” she said.
When Charity wants to get online at home, she sits at her family’s desktop computer, which has a broadband connection that is so sluggish, it takes minutes to load a YouTube video.
“We fight over the computer,” said Charity, 18. “That’s actually a thing here.”
The article continues:
Nearly 15 million Americans live in sparsely populated communities where there is no broadband internet service at all, a stark digital divide across America between those with access to uber-fast connections and those with none.
But in Green Bank, where the restrictions are mandatory, the quiet zone has in many ways created a time warp in the mountainous region. Phone booths loom near barns and stand guard on rural roads. Paper maps are still common. Here, people are less distracted by the technologies that have come to dominate 21st-century American life.
At a time when nearly 60 percent of American teens say they have been bullied or harassed online, and studies have found links between social media use and teen mental health problems, the digital limitations around Green Bank have created a unique kind of modern childhood, providing a glimpse into what it means to grow up without the constant buzz of texting and social media.
The quiet, too, has given young people here a greater appreciation for fostering in-real-life connections, the great outdoors and personal privacy. Even teenagers who are able to use Wi-Fi at home — in the quiet zone but outside its 10-mile core — said they spend less time online than most people their ages, and those who have moved to the quiet zone said they have discovered a newfound sense of adventure.
Although Charity received an iPhone 6 for Christmas two years ago, she said she rarely looked at it. She makes plans with friends the old-fashioned way: on a landline or in person. After school, instead of being glued to social media, she usually goes running before tending to her family’s goats, chickens and ducks. Then she typically makes dinner with her mother.
The family’s computer is helpful for homework — but not much else.
On a recent evening, Charity sat in the family’s cozy living room, chatting with her boyfriend and parents. Undistracted by technology, they laughed and maintained eye contact, a domestic scene they recognize as somewhat rare.
“It kind of makes us old-school,” Charity said. “My parents would kill me if I was staring at my phone and not listening to them.”
The article ends with anecdotes about a family who recently moved from Connecticut to Green Bank. The 13-year-old daughter reflects on how her life has changed:
Now home-schooled by her mother, Jenna said she did not miss her phone, Instagram or really anything else about her old life. Instead, she likes to spend her time reading in a neighbor’s vast library and riding her family’s six-wheel all-terrain vehicle across the fields.
Occasionally, when she is able to connect to Wi-Fi, she will scroll through social media or watch YouTube videos on her phone. But, she said one evening, “it just doesn’t feel real anymore.”
“Back in Connecticut, that was all I had to do,” she said. “Now I’m like, why am I doing this when I could be climbing a tree?”
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
Would you want to live in or visit a quiet zone like Green Bank? Why or why not? What would you miss — and not miss — about not having Wi-Fi and cellular service?
After Jenna Baxter moved to Green Bank and experienced life without social media and YouTube for several months, she commented that they didn’t “feel real anymore.” Can you relate? Have you ever been away from your phone and computer for a while, perhaps while traveling or away at camp? How did you feel at the time?
If you — and everyone else in your community — didn’t have access to texting, social media and online videos, how do you think you would spend your time? Do you think you would miss your online life?
How much do you rely on the internet for school-related tasks like submitting homework and doing research? How would this change if you lived in a place where internet speeds were slow? How do you think school would be different? What about assignments?
Some of the teenagers quoted in the article mention certain expectations their parents have for them, such as maintaining eye contact during conversations and spending time together. How does that compare with life in your house? Are the adults you live with on their phones and computers just as much as you are? How would your parents cope with life in a place like Green Bank?
What, if anything, do you think the young people who live in Green Bank are missing out on by not having access to certain technology-related experiences?
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.