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My family visited a city where cell phones are not allowed. Not having service has made me a more present parent.

Anna Rollins' kids on a boat

Anna Rollin

  • My family visited Watoga State Park in West Virginia, where cell phones are not allowed.

  • While trying to text a friend, I discovered there was no signal.

  • The park is near a large telescope, so the area is considered a quiet zone for devices.

We started the summer by taking a trip to the “quiet zone”. After a month of shift work, elusive toddler fevers, and canine diarrhea, my husband rented a cabin in Watoga State Park, West Virginia for a getaway. We were boating, fishing and swimming in the lake. Then we hiked the trails of the Allegheny Mountains with our two young sons.

When we arrived at the park, I saw a message on my phone: A friend had just given birth to a baby girl. I typed my congratulations. After pressing “send”, I received a notification: “The message was not delivered”.

“Oh,” my husband mentioned casually as he turned down the tree-covered main road. “There’s no cell service here. It’s actually illegal.”

Although the region surrounding Watoga is forested, it is far from backward. Quite the contrary: cell service has been banned due to the area’s proximity to the Green Bank Observatory, home to the world’s largest fully steerable telescope.

There is no signal

The telescope can detect radio emissions light years away. To prevent our terrestrial devices from interfering with scientific research, the government has declared the 13,000 square mile zone – most of Pocahontas County, West Virginia – surrounding the telescope as the national radio quiet zone.

My first impulse, of course, was to pull out my phone to Google more information. Instead, I found myself with a weird desire to tell other people in the park about it.

A person who grew up in the area described the peculiar teenage pastime of driving to specific peaks to access base stations in neighboring counties. Another said how nice it was to live at a slower pace without distractions.

Like many people living outside of the Quiet Zone, I had struggled with my relationship with my devices. I had tried various tricks to reduce my consumption: usage alerts, deliberately “losing them”, and self-censorship.

While I wasn’t going to wallow in the shame of having depended on technology that actually made the already difficult job of parenthood so much easier, I fantasized about the days before.

Our trip to the Quiet Zone reminded me of what life would be like with more mindfulness.

It improved my parenting

When we entered our cabin – clean and rustic with the luxury of modern amenities – it was dinner time. As I simultaneously started unpacking and boiling water on the stove, my potty-training toddler had an accident at the kitchen table.

“Mom, I peed,” he cried.

Immediately, I pulled my phone out of my back pocket. I realized I was conditioned to take a quick scroll – for a dopamine hit – before I faced the chaos of life. But my phone couldn’t provide that convenience, so I had to take full care of the mess.

After dinner, we took a little hike. We picked a random trail requested by my son. His justification: “Let’s go because it’s more beautiful.” I realized that this rating was better than anything I could have found on an internet search.

When we woke up in the morning, my son was lying next to me in his bed. Rather than reaching for my camera on the bedside table, I turned to him. He was still sleeping. I listened to the sound of his rhythmic breathing. I looked deeply into her face—the hills of her cheeks, the valleys beneath her eyes—and studied the way the light from the slatted blinds molded her complexion.

In this stillness, I was brought back to the experience of being fully present. For me to be here completely on Earth, the others had to look at the stars.

Read the original Insider article

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