Nestled in the heart of the Monohagela National Forest in West Virginia is the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) - a 13,000 square mile zone where you won't hear the familiar pings and rings of your electronic devices. Created to protect radio telescopes from interference by electromagnetic waves, the NRQZ is home to the world's largest steerable object - the Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The GBT is used to explore the universe, including the elusive search for extraterrestrial life, but to do its job it requires minimal electromagnetic interference. As a result, in the surrounding area there are zero internet service providers and absolutely no cell phone service.
Enter the National Youth Science Camp. Located no more than five minutes from the Green Bank Observatory, home of the GBT, delegates to the camp eventually become accustomed to the electronic disconnect from the rest of the world.
This summer, I had the opportunity to serve as one of two delegates from Ohio to the National Youth Science Camp. Here, all 107 delegates explored the challenges and conveniences of living off the grid together.
At first, most of us dwelled on the obvious inconveniences of living offline. For starters, it meant being unable to register for college classes for the fall, missing out on World Cup updates, being unable to keep up with our loved ones, not being able to find out which team would acquire LeBron James in the off-season, and being unable to contact the outside world in case the camp was really an organ harvesting scheme.
However, the rich diversity of nature and cornucopia of outdoor activities available in West Virginia quickly dissipated those inconveniences. About a week later, everyone was collectively hit with a wave of homesickness, and that's where the greatest challenge of living offline arose: we couldn't FaceTime or call up our parents or friends, but soon, we found out it was for the best. For probably the first time in my life, I hand wrote a letter, bought a stamp and then mailed it. It's a pity that post offices are on their way out because the handwritten letter read more genuinely and thoughtfully than any email I've composed.
In fact, at camp, there was something refreshing about not having to respond to emails or meet deadlines. Not having to keep track of a calendar or creating a daily schedule is refreshingly blissful in contrast to our stressful, meticulously scheduled lives.
So, if you're here for the abridged version, here are a few lessons I've learned from living offline that I encourage you to adopt:
- It might take a little longer, but trust me when I say that anything handwritten is more meaningful.
- Inconveniences magically disappear if you keep yourself busy.
- Avoiding blue light before sleeping actually works!
- Appreciate the gift of nature as often as you can.
- Fruitarian Diet - Yup. Low-calorie diets - Sure. Internet Diet? Why not?
- Most importantly: be wary of potential organ harvesting schemes in the NRQZ!