Every day Jay Lockman climbs 450 feet to the top of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, a massive web of steel that overlooks the high green moguls of the West Virginia mountain range. He’s the principal scientist for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), otherwise known as the community of Green Bank, which has legally obliged itself to remain off-grid. Some use the community as an oasis from modern life, to build their own homes and live in quiet solitude. Lockman sees the community as an extraordinary scientific opportunity: Between now and 2021, Lockman and the Green Bank Telescope will be helping to conduct the largest scientific search for extraterrestrial life in history.
This is merely one advantage of living in “the quietest place in America.” But Green Bank has also become a safe haven for the “electromagnetic hypersensitive.” Put sensitively, hypochondriacs who believe that cellphone waves are tampering with their health. So they move off-grid to live in the peaceful community of Green Bank, where there are no cell phone towers, WiFi is highly restricted, and microwaves are not allowed.
Jonah Bauserman, a technician who patrols the community, carries a device that detects radio frequencies that may be harmful to the telescope’s research. The responsibility is not without heartbreak, as Bauserman’s device alerts him of belligerent rebels, firing WiFi-signals under the nose of the law. For one of the only towns to ever criminalize WiFi, you might as well be hocking a loogie right in old Bauserman’s eyes. After signing a rental agreement that disallows microwaves, WiFi and cordless telephones, you would have to be one sadistic motherfucker to sneak in a modem—but people do it. The world is bleak and cruel.
Still, with the exception of a few bad apples, the community remains unsoiled by the electromagnetic filth of modern technology. Fuck your cellphones, these guys are talking to aliens.