The Green Bank space telescope.

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2.4 GHz

2019


2.4 GHz is the frequency at which both our wifi connection and radio-waves emitted from space, travel.


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.

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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The senior centre in Green Bank organises a daily lunch which sees many elderly residents visit to eat and socialise with one another. Green Bank has an aging population since a large majority of youth leave to find work. Due to weak Internet connections, it is very difficult for businesses to start up in the area.

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Jenny's windows are covered in kite paper to reduce the sunlight in her new home. Bright light sometimes makes her feel worse and weaker.

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Justice's phone in Green Bank shows 'No Service'. 

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“I beat death three times,” says Jennifer, a sufferer of and advocate for Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (a severe sensitivity to electromagnetic fields) as she sits in her typically-West-Virginia-decored home. After many years of hopping from one place to another, escaping radiation, Jennifer, an architect originally from Louisiana, found a small house in Green Bank which she can call home. The first time she got sick was in Hawaii in 1996. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it was also the time where analog telephones went digital,” she says “it wasn’t until many years later that I saw a film about epidemeology, and the rise of all these illnesses rose in 1996 following the amount of exposure to magnetic radiation. I had never used a cellphone, so it was kind of like getting sick from second hand smoke. One night I got so sick, I thought I had heavy metal poisoning, I was so ill. I went to the emergency ward and started losing weight really rapidly. From 120 pounds to 77 pounds. I had horrific symptoms and it was 24/7, the symptoms were so bad I could only sleep for twenty minutes a night for an entire year and a half, it was absolute torture.” For the next 20 years, Jenny went from one place to another, escaping areas of dense radiation, even sleeping in her car for a period of time. Jennifer is weary about global wifi emitted from satellites. “It would be a total nightmare for people like me,” she says, “it is a nightmare for the Earth, but people don’t know it yet.” 

In recent years,  public wifi hotposts are slowly slowly on the increase. However, in 2019, they still remain scarce. Here, a man sits in his car and makes use of one of the hotspots from a nearby restaurant.

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I do get nervous about not having a connection. A lot. I have had Internet my whole life… I lived in St Albans for ten years before I moved here, it’s more of a city and has Internet and service, it is a lot more difficult, especially when you worry about your friends. One time my Internet went out and when I put it back on I had messages from my sister and a call telling my that my grandma was in the hospital. Any time my phone is off I worry that there’s something wrong with my grandma or something.” - Justice Wolfe






“I don’t feel there are really any advantages (of not being constantly connected)... We have our technology but as it is it’s more of our choice how we use it right now, rather than it being jammed down our throats... I (even) feel that traditional millenials raised with social media and texting find it more difficult to interact sometimes and have face to face conversations. In Pocahontas I feel this change is coming, but it has been much slower than in more urban areas.” - Rachel Tayor

“I did [have friends back home in Maryland], but I called a couple of them recently and they kind of moved on really fast. Like my best friend doesn’t really want to talk to me anymore. It’s different, people are different. That really kind of upset me and shocked me. ..They rely on their phones all the time to keep in touch with people. People need to start actually going and seeing people.” - Brionna

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