Many of you have probably read about Camp Grounded, a gadget-free adult summer camp put on by Digital Detox a few weeks ago in Northern California (if you haven't, see coverage here and here). Some of you may have even attended.
It was a detox from all things bad for you: over-connectedness, alcohol, drugs and meat. As the camp's website describes it: "Trade in your computer, cell phone, Instagrams, clocks, schedules and work-jargon for an off-the-grid weekend of pure unadulterated fun."
From many campers' comments, it was a success. They left camp relaxed and more aware of their time-consuming relationship with technology. Activities like yoga, stargazing and pillow fights sound like a good time -- though I imagine some liquor wouldn't have hurt.
Given that the event sold out at fairly high ticket prices, I'm curious as to what's driving the popularity. What makes "checking out" more compelling now than just a few years ago? Widespread smartphone adoption can't be the only answer. Unproductive habits (smoking, drinking, TV) are a tale as old as time, but we've developed ways of living with them (indoor smoking bans and DVR come to mind). Why are we now paying $300 to ditch our iPhones for the weekend?
Venturing a guess, I'd say we need a break more so from the people who contact us on the device than the device itself. A phone has an off button that transforms it into a pile of metal and plastic. I imagine the problem is really people who expect us, whether for work or life,to be available at all times. Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic asked tough questions along those lines: "Which effects are *caused by* the technologies and which are *enabled by* the technologies and which just happen to *occur through* the technologies?"
Consider, for example, how workplace communication has exploded over time. Technology for keeping workers tethered to their jobs has always existed. Shackles are technology. So are on-call schedules and beepers. These didn't create the pervasive "always on" expectation, the people using them did.
Before adoption of the Blackberry, being on call was largely contained to specialized professions like medicine and the Army Reserve -- too few people to cause widespread malaise.
Smartphones have obviously changed that, as the majority of people now own them. Many of us use them to work after hours, even when the same work (often reading email) could be done the next day. We're just not very good yet at controlling our urge to use them.
Does that work email really need to be read, let alone responded to, at 2 a.m.? A culture of over-communication increases the volume of email without actually accomplishing anything. Sure, inbox zero feels good, like a clean plate. But, often, sending emails only shuffles work around, it doesn't necessarily get work done.
Which is too bad, because it's satisfying to check that tiny screen and see if anyone out there wants us. It's a dose of novelty and an opportunity to feel productive. Working without working.
Mobile devices are such a convenience that we can't control ourselves.
This is why people go to camp in the first place, because it's a guaranteed and enforced way to avoid being busy. "Free-Time" is literally on the activities list. We need to discover the limit of our busyness, to lay down boundaries like we have with unhealthy food, alcohol and drugs. We all know that it's not the vodka's fault when someone gets sick.
It's not the phone's fault that we're buried in it. We can't help that smartphones are convenient and often fun. We just need to develop proper boundaries to when and where, and for what purposes, we'd like to use them. Once we do so, we'll be able to "check out" and relax without having to go off the grid.
For more by David Krevitt, click here.
For more on unplugging and recharging, click here.
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