The Green Bank space telescope.

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The Spaces That Connect Us

2019




Last May, thousands of satellites were launched into space as part of long-term plans to create a fleet that could provide connectivity to antenna receivers all over Earth, which could conceivably provide Wi-Fi to the entirety of the planet. In the Western world in 2019, few spaces remain without constant Internet access, one of them being Green Bank – a town in America with a population of 200 people, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia. It is home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope and lies in the heart of America’s National Quiet Zone, a large area of land in which radio transmissions are restricted by law to facilitate scientific research carried out by the telescope and its associated observatory. 


Inhabitants of Green Bank are expected to live as radio-silently as possible, avoiding operating devices that use transmissions which could cause interference with the space exploratory work; such as mobile phones, wireless headphones and microwaves. The context of Green Bank is unique – scientists travel to its remote location to partake in the quest to connect to the universe; others have moved there to escape the bombardment of technology, and the youth population is consistently thinning out; with limited connectivity making the launch of business difficult. Yet, the distinct sense of community is strong, extending to the entire county – an attribute that may be considered rare. 


The project is a photographic case study of life in Green Bank and its neighbouring towns, exploring polarities between connection & disconnection, aloneness & togetherness. By observing the lives and experiences of individuals who live in a space without a constant Internet connection, I hope to create a platform that engenders reflection on humanity’s use of communication technologies. It also begins to question what price we pay for constant connection, and what is at stake for communities such as that of Pocahontas when it becomes their reality too.


Research for this project was partly supported by The Malta Arts Fund - Research Support Grant 2018.


Words by Ann Dingli.

Laura* who works at the Green Bank diner.

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Chuck sits in the Observatory’s truck which is equipped with technology able to track down the location and strengths of radiowave frequencies around the town. This can come in handy when the observatory is noting a radiowave disruption whilst they are conducting research. Chuck can then approach the source of the disruption (sometimes a wifi connection used by a resident) and ask them to temporarily pause the connection or help them to find an alternative Internet source. As time goes by, the number of residents installing Wifi modems has increased, making it more difficult for interference to be navigated.

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Jenny looks out of the window of her new home in Green Bank. She suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity and has spent the last few years on the move, trying to find a place with the least radiation as possible. She has finally settled in a home in the small town in Pocahontas County, the home to the world's largest fully steerable space telescope, which decreases the presence of radiation-emitting devices such as mobile phones. 

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Jenny's wall of frames filled with pictures of family members. Due to the distance between them because of her illness, she sometimes goes as long as a year without seeing them.

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Line dancing on a Saturday night at the Dunmore Community Centre.

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A men sits in his car using his Smartphone connected to the only (recently added) open wifi in the area, an approximate 15 minutes away by car from Green Bank.

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