In “The Quiet Zone,” Stephen Kurczy investigates a West Virginia town largely cut off from modern technology.
Near the town of Green Bank, a strange sign edges the two-lane road: “You Are Now Entering the West Virginia Radio Quiet Zone.” It’s not immediately apparent what those words mean, but they provide a clue to drivers whose phones have gone silent. The Quiet Zone means the law limits radio-wave broadcasts: No cell service, and theoretically a lack of conveniences like Wi-Fi, or certain wireless game controllers. And no microwaves unless they’re put in a protective casing. All these devices interfere with the science conducted by the Green Bank Observatory, home to a host of radio telescopes.
“The Quiet Zone” is also the title of a new book about the area by journalist Stephen Kurczy. Here, he thought, in the land of less technology, life might be simpler, and in line with his own desire for digital disconnection: Kurczy hasn’t owned a cellphone since 2009. Green Bank, he writes, might be “like a modern-day Walden that could free us from the exasperating demands of being always online and always reachable.” He set out to investigate what society might be like if we were all less accessible, looking to the residents of the Quiet Zone for the answer.