I’ve recently come across a company which runs summer camps for adults. Not entirely a new concept, except at these particular camps there is a complete void of digital. No iPhones, no Playstations, no Macbooks, just good old fashioned analogue fun. Welcome to your digital detox.
The purpose of the camps is to help adults disconnect from their digitally-obsessed lives, in the hope that a few days out in the wilderness having genuine, old-fashioned fun with other adults will lower their stress levels and fire up their emotional IQ. This symbolises the emerging digital detox trend.
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A Digital Detox involves switching off all computers and communication devices for a period of time, generally one to three days. The belief is that it promotes a number of health benefits such as increased mindfulness, lower stress levels, higher empathy and a greater desire to open up and talk with old friends or new strangers.
The summer camps, aptly called Camp Grounded, typically run for up to four days and can cost upwards of $700 USD, which seems outrageously high. However, aside from the rudimentary accommodation (such as Teepees), and music festival merchandise, there are a lot of inclusions for the price – I mean a lot: Camp Grounded includes Healthy Gourmet Camp Meals, Live Music, 30+ Playshops, Campfires, Yoga, Counselors, Arts ‘n Crafts, Camp Dance, Talent Show, Sing-A-Longs, Rockwall Climbing, Archery, Swimming, Meditation, Typewriters, Capture the Flag, Classic Cabins, Color Wars, Kickball, Stargazing, Sweat Lodges, Program Specialists, Wellness Tipis, S’mores & More…
The company which runs Camp Grounded, DigitalDetox.com, was founded by partner-duo Levi Felix and Brooke Dean. The foundations of the company are built on a fancy brand story, but there’s some truisms in there.
A few years ago, the two returned from a self-enlightening two and half year trip around the world, where they lived ‘off the grid’ wherever possible. Returning from their trip, Levi and Brooke were apparently shocked at the state of modern society and our addition to digital, inspiring them to launch the company. The DigitalDetox.com website states:
“When they returned from their backpacking, farming, nonprofit volunteering and global wanderlust to a country face-down in screens. They discovered that the digital devices and gadgets that had once been reserved for techies, bloggers or the media-hungry, had now taken on a whole new role in society at large. Screens were everywhere and everyone was always on them. In the short time they were gone, it seemed that everyone had become tech addicted, media dependent and things weren’t looking good.”
Without delving too far into the clever messaging and marketing, it’s apparent that the founders returned from their non-profit, pseudo-Buddhist expedition overseas with a brilliant for-profit business idea:
Help disconnect you from digital and reconnect with you people.
In truth, it’s of little surprise that people and businesses (they run camps for teams, too) are investing thousands into these experiences. In a world where we spend at least one third of our day looking at screens and internet addiction is at all-time-high of 61 percent, the notion that we might unplug for a couple days suddenly doesn’t seem all that crazy.
Our Unhealthy Obsession
In the last three years the digital detox concept has begun to take off, which is little wonder for those living in countries where smartphone penetration is also at it’s peak. Our unhealthy dependence on smartphones and information is not only diminishing the communication skills of the next generation or workers, it’s also impacting our health, well-being and happiness. The need to capture every one of life’s fleeting moments has also impacted us in more than just narcissistic ways, too.
“We found that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be more depressed…”
Last year, David Mohr published a new study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The study aimed to
determine if someone was depressed, just by their smartphone usage. The phone data the researchers collected was incredible detailed: how many places the participants visited each day, how much time they spent in each of those places and how frequently they used their phones, says Sohrob Saeb, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist in preventive medicine at Feinberg. The researchers then correlated this data with depression test scores the candidates did prior to the experient.
“We found that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be more depressed,” says David Mohr, one of the authors of the study and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The researchers also found that spending lots of time at home was linked to depression—and that phone data like this could predict with 87 percent accuracy whether someone had symptoms of depression.
Depression through Smartphones?
So does smartphone and internet addiction cause depression? Well it’s not quite that black and white, just yet. For every emerging study which correlates increased digital exposure to unhappiness, there’s also contradicting data about how it’s bridging divides and enriching our lives culturally, artfully and helping more people find or create work.
In recent Bank of America study, 88 percent of millennials say that technology has brought them closer to friends and relatives who live far away, however fewer than half think that new technology will allow them to maintain deeper relationships in the future than they have today. 77 percent believe that in ten years, relationships will be less authentic because of our reliance on digital communication.
Detox from Life? No Thanks.
In the workplace, our productivity chains are now built around input-output devices; computers, tablets and smartphones. At home, we’re accompanied by smartphones to every room and our walls are adorned by large screen, internet-enabled televisions. If you happen to ditch your bluetooth enabled car and take the bus or train, chances are you’ll spotify your way to station and will be bombarded with digital advertisements once you arrive.
The more we look at life in 2016, the more apparent it becomes that a digital detox is less about information consumption, and more about how digital is shaping our culture of tomorrow. Our capture culture of Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook is increasingly forcing us to look down, instead of up. The daily torrent of information that hits our inbox, newsfeed and apps is making us more apathetic and stress-laden, the tactility of our home and workplace has been replaced with just two surfaces; the plastic on our keyboard and the glass on our screens.
Although the notion of a digital detox makes sense for a business idea, in the long term it will go the way of every other health detox out there; a charming idea but in practice, outwitted by a balanced lifestyle.
So instead of bingeing on digital and then forking out hundreds to do crafty ‘digital detox’ activities which we could otherwise do at home, maybe it’s just time to evolve our concept of work-life balance to something better.
I quite like the sound of a digital diet.