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After being hospitalized for internal bleeding, Levi Felix left his digitally connected job as the vice president of a thriving tech startup. He and partner Brooke Dean sold their belongings, packed up backpacks and embarked on a worldwide adventure. As part of their journey, they ran a guesthouse on a remote island in Cambodia. There, Felix would take his guests’ devices away and encourage them to uplug and enjoy life.
When Felix and Dean returned back to Cailfornia two and half years later, smartphones had become ubiquitous. They were shocked by the sheer amount of digital consumption around them. The revelation prompted them to start Digital Detox, a non-profit organization devoted to helping people “disconnect to reconnect.”
Addicted to Tech
Of course, the idea of detoxing implies addiction and today real evidence exists that we are increasingly tied to our devices, and the near constant use is having an affect on our health.
According to a recent report by Bank of America, 16 percent of smartphone users sleep with their phones either in their hand or in bed with them. Another 55 percent put the device within arms reach on the nightstand. Several studies have shown that the blue light associated with smartphones and tablets suppresses melatonin levels, a hormone that supports healthy sleep cycles, essentially tricking our bodies into thinking its time to wake up and negatively impacting our quality of sleep.
Moreover, a staggering 89 percent of users check their phones several times a day with 47 percent admitting to constant checking, at least once an hour or more. Device addiction has been a self-diagnosed ailment that is now being evaluated more formally. A recent study conducted at the University of Illinois showed a link between high-engagement with mobile technology and depression and anxiety in college students.
University of Illinois psychology professor and study author Alejandro Lleras was quoted as saying: “People who self-described as having really addictive-style behaviors toward the Internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales.”
Another issue that plays into anxiety is Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, generated mostly by social media use. In a stress and wellbeing study released by the Australian Psychological Society this year, adults and teens are spending more than two hours on social media daily, and 54 percent of teens consistantly worry that friends are having more rewarding experiences.
A movement begins
Felix and Dean didn’t need scientific proof to launch Digital Detox. Intuitively, the need to quiet one’s mind from the “noise” in our world sparked their effort. They started with small detox retreats; they launched a “Device-Free Drinks” movement. They held events at local restaurants and bars with a “tech check” instead of a coat check. The response was incredible, and in 2014, they launched Camp Grounded.
“It was a crazy experiment,” says Camp Grounded Director Brady Gill, a childhood friend of Felix’s. “Rather than feeling sad or bored or uncomfortable, we often pick up our phone. A lot of our human to human connection has been replaced by technology.”
The Camp Grounded team found a location in the coastal redwoods and immediately put together a website. Within a couple of weeks, they were 75 percent sold out. The following year they expanded camps in two more states—Texas and North Carolina—and this summer they will be launching in New York as well.
Escape from your phone
Just outside Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains sits Camp Pinnacle. Opened in 1928, the camp continues to serve children, ages seven to 15, but between August 19th and 28th it will host adults participating in Camp Grounded.
The bucolic setting offers the perfect environment for people to reminisce about their nostalgic childhood summers at camp. Gill says the program attempts to tap into this inner child and reintroduce play through a wide variety of camp activities including: paddle boarding, archery, meditation, swimming, kickball, capture the flag, and what they call playshops, like laughter yoga, Lego building, solar carving and songwriting.
“Play is scientifically related to happiness and a release of stress, being courageous and being collaborative—essential skills in a work field,” says Gill.
The experience appeals to all ages and all professions. Last year, the oldest camper was 71 while the youngest was 18. Bankers, students, writers, architects, and farmers have attended but you wouldn’t know it since talking about work is strictly forbidden. Other camp rules: no digital technology, no networking, no drugs or alcohol, no names.
What, no names?
When people arrive at Camp Grounded they register. It’s here where they surrender any devices—smartphones, tablets, wearables—receive a handshake or hug (whichever they’re most comfortable with), milk and cookies, and select a camp nickname. Gill says nicknames help keep us from networking.
“We have a lot of identity tied around our name,” he says. “What we found is if people are set up to let go of their name, it opens the playing field in terms of what they want to do.”
People can choose their own nicknames, often reclaiming one from their childhood, but professional nicknamers are on hand to help those who need one. After registration, campers are sent to their village where they meet counselors. They are also set up with an analog mailbox, where they can receive notes and messages. One recurring question, however, is, “What if there’s an emergency at home?”
“While we are out in the woods, we are not in outer space,” answers Gill. All campers are given the camp phone number ahead of time to share with family and friends. The line is manned 24 hours a day so you can relax and unplug. Gill adds it’s important to set yourself up for success, and in this case, technology can be helpful. Put it out on social media: For the next four days I’m disconnecting!
Camp Grounded offers two sessions in North Carolina. Session 1: Aug.
19-22; Session 2: Aug. 25-28; $645, visit
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