A dozen years ago, my wife and I purchased her family’s farm in Orange County, Indiana, with the hopes of retiring there. Then the pandemic arrived, and the federal government realized rural children lacked connectivity and blanketed America’s countryside with fiber optic cable, which we thought was wonderful so signed up, only to realize our farm was no longer an escape from modernity but an outpost of it. The feature we loved most about our farm, its physical and electronic isolation, had been compromised, and it was another hot spot of constant connection.
For the past 12 years, I’ve brushed off countless emails inviting me to do things I didn’t want to do by saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t respond, but I was at our farm and didn’t get your email.” Now that luxury is gone, and with it our solitude. So you can imagine my joy at learning about Pocahontas County, West Virginia, the home of the Green Bank Observatory, which bans any device that might interfere with the observatory’s radio telescopes, including cellphones, Wi-Fi routers, and iPads. I’m happy to report I’ve found my new retirement destination, the one place in the United States our government has banned nearly all forms of modern communication. The nearest town to the observatory, Green Bank, has been called the quietest town in America.
In this heaven on earth, families, unable to bury their faces in smartphones, chat with one another at the dinner table. No one sits in a restaurant ranting on a cellphone. No one ignores you to send a text or hops on Facebook to call someone an idiot. Is this the best town in America or what? One would think a town this wonderful would be packed with people, but one would be wrong. Only 180 folks call Green Bank home, plus a bank, a gas station, an elementary school, a Dollar General, and several churches. Given churches’ propensity to split, there is never just one church. But God bless them, when the Green Bank Christians split, they did it the old fashioned way, face-to-face, not sniping at one another on social media. I learned of this little nirvana the same week I announced to my wife I would be getting rid of my cellphone. She reminded me I was a pastor and people needed to phone me with their problems, which in my mind proved my point that cellphones were intrusive and should be thrown away. Besides, I told her, if people needed me, they could tell God and God could tell me. Have a little faith, I told her. Sheesh.
We’ve grown so accustomed to instant connection that we hate people who don’t have cellphones. Merely mentioning the idea to my wife annoyed her. But if I moved to Green Bank, I’d have a built-in excuse for ditching my cellphone — the government made me. “That darn government,” I’ll say, shaking my fist in the general direction of Washington, D.C., “sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong.” I love blaming the government for things that are clearly my fault.
Sometimes when we make mistakes, we can undo them. We can sell an unreliable car, divorce an unpleasant spouse, or quit a disagreeable job. But there’s no undoing social media, cellphones, and 24-hour connectivity. They’re here to stay. In the hands of wise and thoughtful people, they are a blessing. But you’ve likely noticed the wise and thoughtful folks are outnumbered these days, and now we know why they call West Virginia almost heaven.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.
Featured image: Noises off! No cellphones, no routers — no Wi-Fi — are permitted anywhere near the Green Bank Observatory while it listens for signals from deep space. (Shutterstock)
This article is featured in the January/February 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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