Summer camp offers adults a detox from their digital devices
By Leslie A. Gordon
Oct 1, 2013, 09:40 am CDT
Galia Aharoni describes her summer camp experiences as a camper and counselor as “magical” and “transformative.” So when Aharoni, a San Francisco-based business lawyer, learned of Camp Grounded, an adults-only summer camp, she jumped at the chance to participate. The catch: The camp not only forbids technology—that’s its founding philosophy.
An offshoot of Digital Detox, an organization that produces device-free meet-ups where as many as 700 people show up, Camp Grounded seeks to connect people the old-fashioned way.
This summer, 300 adults forked out more than $300 to spend a weekend in Northern California writing, climbing, playing music and doing yoga. In addition to forbidding technology, Camp Grounded enforces a no-networking rule: Campers go by nicknames and can’t talk about work. Instead, campers have “conversations about the favorite food their grandmother made” or their wedding proposal, says Digital Detox co-founder Levi Felix. “That appeals to lawyers or anyone living a connected life.”
Aharoni went into camp unconvinced that technology was negatively affecting her life. In fact, her law office is virtual and most client interactions take place through Skype or Google Plus Hangouts. But once at Camp Grounded, Aharoni was shocked to realize she was a technology addict.
She caught herself reaching for her phone for moments of mindless entertainment, felt phantom vibrations in her pocket and heard ringtones that weren’t there.
Technology, she realized, had been preventing her from being fully present. “The constant expectation of a phone ding kept me in a constant fight-or-flight stress mode.”
Lawyers, like accountants, CEOs and doctors, are always on call, Felix says. “It’s taxing. Being away at camp gives them the experience of trusting others” to handle work matters.
For her part, Aharoni revamped her habits after returning from Camp Grounded. She now leaves her phone on silent unless she’s expecting a specific call. Clients, she insists, “can leave a message. They can send an email. They will hear back from us when we’re ready.”
Aharoni also now wears a watch so she doesn’t always have to consult her phone, which inevitably leads to checking emails. “I’ve found myself much more clear-headed and better able to work well. We’re no use to our firms or our clients if we’re worn out and tired,” she insists. “Being plugged in all the time feels more efficient, but all it really does is distract us and make us take even longer to do the same things.”
Importantly, Camp Grounded’s administration doesn’t believe that technology is evil, Aharoni notes. Digital Detox events and communications are organized online, and everyone is friends on Facebook. But, she adds, being a camper can remind lawyers and other professionals that technology is better used as a tool than a crutch, “that we should be in charge of our technology instead of the other way around.”