Unplugg’d and Tuned In

Ashley M. BiggersOctober 1, 2017
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Digital detox camps arrive in Arizona.

Summer camp: a place of canoe races, color wars, and stories shared around the campfire. Many have experienced this childhood rite of passage in person or at least vicariously, through movies like The Parent Trap and Meatballs. Today, adults looking to recapture those halcyon days are heading to adults-only summer camps. There are dozens of such camps popping up across the U.S.; one of the most popular, Camp No Counselors, has 15 locations across the country. Pinterest reported a 43 percent increase in the interest in adult summer camps in 2017. The latest incarnation, Camp Unplugg’d, landed in August at Camp Daisy and Harry Stein, formerly Camp Pearlstein, in Prescott. Designed as a respite from the digital grind, the camp offers more than arts and crafts – even if that friendship bracelet is fierce.

The off-the-grid camp asks participants to check their phones at the door for a three-day, two-night digital detox. It’s a cold-turkey technique that camp founder and director Arian Shirakhoon initially found uncomfortable when she attended a similar Luddite bivouac, Camp Grounded, in San Francisco. The experience inspired the entertainer, entrepreneur and Thunderbird School of Global Management grad to create her own version. “At first it was scary. I didn’t like not knowing what time it was,” she says. “But being there, sitting around the campfire, [I] felt so free.”

Shirakhoon and the Camp Unplugg’d attendees aren’t alone in their digital addictions or “nomophobia” (no-mobile phone phobia). A study from the University of California, San Diego found that people consume three times as much information as they did in 1960. To devour information at that volume, 81 percent of people admit to interrupting conversations – “Sorry, where was I? Just got a notification on my phone. Oh yeah, that’s right…”  – to check texts or social media. But all that connectivity isn’t necessarily fruitful. The same study found that 73 percent of people believe their use of electronic devices has increased their stress. 

“We’re always connected 24 hours a day,” Shirakhoon says. “I’m guilty of it – being on my phone while watching a movie or sending a text while having dinner. We’re just checking in to check out.”

So with phone literally out of hand, what’s a camper to do? Shirakhoon planned archery, ziplining, face-painting, swimming, hiking and talent shows. She also brought in yoga teachers and massage therapists, balancing the nostalgia of traditional summer camp with adult activities. One that’s missing? Drinking. Shirakhoon kept the camp dry, opting instead for a pure, innocent vibe and time for genuine connection.

Elise Rathke, a 57-year-old registered dietitian, attended to disconnect and spend time outdoors. “It’s a reminder that it’s really freeing to step away from my phone and interact more in person. To use my phone to connect, but to focus more on setting up a lunch date with friends and loved ones,” she says.

With no possibility of unflattering photo evidence of tentative first steps into a new activity ending up on social media, campers pursued new interests with youthful abandon. Isaac King, a 36-year-old emergency room tech, is an avid mountain bike racer and trail runner, so he’s accustomed to being disconnected in the outdoors. However, he hoped to conquer his fear of horses. “With new people at camp, everyone’s going to be trying new things,” he says. King also longed for the friendships he made easily as a child at camp, but which have become more difficult to find as an adult in the workforce.

Shirakhoon, who as a child attended Camp Pearlstein, says, “For me, summer camp is an environment where you are free to be yourself.” And without smartphones in hand, she says, “I want people to trade FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) for JOBI – the joy of being in.” 

Need A Digital Detox?
The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction researches tech dependency and abuse. Founded by Dr. David Greenfield, a renowned cyber psychologist, the center also advises medical professionals and treats patients on these behaviors. Here are a few questions from CITA’s 15-question test to evaluate a smartphone compulsion or addiction.  

Do you find yourself mindlessly passing time on a regular basis by staring at your cell or smartphone?

Do you find yourself spending more time texting, tweeting or emailing as opposed to talking to people in person?

Do you sleep with your cell or smartphone (turned on) under your pillow or next to your bed regularly? (You’re not alone. Pew Center research says 65 percent of Americans do this.)

Do you feel reluctant to be without your cell or smartphone, even for a short time?

Visit virtual-addiction.com
For more information about Camp Unplugg’d, visit campunpluggd.com


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