The Day – Stephen Kurczy, from Bozrah, reflects on the possibility of making room for a ‘time of calm’

What started as a way for a struggling journalist to save money by not having a cell phone in 2009 has gradually turned into a stubborn refusal on his part to get one, said l author and native of Bozrah Stephen Kurczy in a telephone interview.

“I just started pushing back from my family members and employers who told me I had to buy a cell phone for them, so they could contact me whenever they wanted.

Over the years, the former New London resident believed his “life was no worse for not having a cell phone and arguably better considering all the research into how cellphones and smartphones are” , which are channels for social media, “erode our focus, undermine democracy, create echo chambers of disinformation, inhibit our ability to live in the moment and enjoy nature.

It was in 2017 that Kurczy started thinking about writing a book about his experiences of not having a cell phone and “how unique it is in the world,” and researched places online without cell service.

“One of the first things that popped up was Green Bank, West Virginia,” heralded as the self-proclaimed quietest town in America (population: around 250), due to its restrictions on cell service, phones laptops, Wi-Fi and wireless. connectivity – radio waves that “can cause interference with radio telescopes at the Green Bank Observatory,” which was founded in 1956, he said.

Kurczy and Jenna Cho (now his wife), both former employees of The Day, visited Green Bank in March 2017, during which time he said he “was really fascinated and captivated by the place” . Cho, not so much. However, as a journalist, he said she recognized his fascination with the place and that there was “a lot going on here” that was not covered by the media.

“This sense of mystery is truly palpable as you step into Green Bank and the Appalachians. It is such a rugged landscape with mountains, hills, winding roads and a fixed fog settling in the valleys. It’s a place where you never really see everything.

Kurczy described going around a bend and seeing “those huge, 500-foot-tall telescopes rising out of the forest canopy or the fog.”

Pocahontas County (of which Green Bank is a part) is roughly the size of Rhode Island with a sparse population of 8,200 people spread over 942 square miles. A 10 square mile ultra-calm zone “was established in 1958 to protect both Green Bank and the nearby town of Sugar Grove, where the military operates a top-secret surveillance facility with its own collection of antennas. The military and astronomers both need radio silence to do their jobs, ”he wrote.

In addition, a national radio area of ​​13,000 square miles surrounds this 10 mile radius.

Over the next three years, Kurczy commuted from New York to spend about four months at Green Bank meeting people and researching the area for his book “The Quiet Zone: Unraveling the Mystery of a Town Suspended in. Silence, ”which was published in August by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The book evolves from seeking calm to “finding that calm can have a bad side,” Kurczy said. “There is a darker side of silence that allows evil things to go unnoticed or unchecked, like this neo-Nazi group (called the National Alliance) that has been around for so long. There are some things we cannot be silent about. The calm is not always idyllic, is not always perfect.

Over time, Kurczy and Cho have experienced “a lingering sense of unease”, especially since Jenna is Korean and now has two biracial children. “To be so close to an organization that is actively calling for genocide against non-whites” and calling for a “white society and to implement it through violence is quite frightening,” he said.

Key figures in her book include former Wall Street banker Marianne Roberts, who committed suicide in 2018 “almost as an act of extreme violence to protest the noise from the outside world creeping into Green Bank,” said Kurczy said.

Roberts moved to the “quiet zone” after diagnosing himself as having “electromagnetic hypersensitivity,” a condition in which “people experience intense pain and illness to the point of becoming ill and even dying from the radiation that most of us cannot sense from smartphones, cell phone towers, wi-fi, even some lights and stoves and just electronic gadgets all around us that emit electromagnetic waves, for the most part imperceptible, ”he explained.

Among the most famous unsolved murders in Pocahontas County due to its “influx of foreigners” include two hippies who hitchhiked the area in 1980 for a “festival known as the Rainbow Gathering. “.

Hundreds of other people have also flocked to Green Bank over the past decade, believing it to be “their last refuge in a noisy world”, the last place they could go to “get away from it all.” all that electromagnetic smog ”.

Kurczy said there is no fountain of youth, Shangri-La, or heaven on earth. “Green Bank is not as calm as it is claimed” and the bottom line is that this area is not the solution to our “constant connectivity”.

Still, “there is a distinctly slower pace of life” here, he said. “It always has a different relationship with technology,” because the internet is so slow there and cell service is so spotty that people have a more distant relationship with their smartphones and other devices. “And that forces them to take a break with them. It’s a bit like in my own life. I don’t have a cell phone at this point, because it’s like my last effort. It’s like the only thing I can do to maintain some kind of quiet boundary where I’m away from Wi-Fi. I’m away from my devices. I cannot be reached and I cannot be tempted.

He hopes that after reading his book, people “will think more consciously and with more intent about their use of technology” and how it influences their lives. He said many people are “tied to their smartphones” which has caused a “real increase in road accidents and deaths over the past five to ten years”.

He pointed out that these devices also cause “erosion” in meaningful conversations. “Even people who use it crudely agree it’s crass, but there’s that feeling like, ‘What am I supposed to do? This is how life is now.

In the past month, leaks to Facebook files published in the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets show how “even Facebook knows its own platforms (including Instagram)” are toxic to us and causing all kinds of things. of social ills … and in terms of democracy.

Kurczy said his book also explores many fundamental questions: “What is tranquility worth to us?” What is the value of stillness in our lives? What are we prepared to do to maintain calm or have calm in our lives? Does calm still exist in the world?

Jan Tormay, a longtime Norwich resident, now lives in Westerly.

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