Camp Grounded is run by the organization Digital Detox, who operate two camps: one in Northern California in the Mendocino woods and another in North Carolina. Their mindset is all about unwinding and communing with nature: the same idea we enjoyed at camp in 1980. But these days, it’s obviously much more difficult for campers of all ages to reach such a digitally detoxed state.
Camp Grounded is changing all of that – or trying to. And the thousands of campers who’ve visited each summer are proof that one doesn’t need an iPhone in her palm to capture life’s best moments.
Examiner spoke to their founder, Levi Felix, about Camp Grounded and why the digitally detoxed life is still possible – at least for the duration of camp. Following is an edited version of that conversation:
What is special about Camp Grounded? Isn’t any camp a digital detox camp or do you think people are still bringing their cell phones when they go rough it?
Our Digital Detox programs are different from other experiences in that they are driven by a foundation based on the knowledge, research and data regarding digital technology in relation to psychology, sociology and anthropology. We do not just take away people’s phones or tell them to turn them off; we provide them with resources before camp to become mindful of their tech use (and assess their daily habits), while basing our program on the understanding of what experiences provide campers with a deep connection to their self, others, nature and the world at large.
Other ways that our program is different:
– We check people’s technology through our “tech-check”. We take all of it and lock it in our safe (phones, watches, anything with a screen).
– We don’t allow digital cameras, only analog photography (Old School cameras, like Mom had at camp.)
– At Camp Grounded there are strict rules that give campers the freedom to truly unplug from daily life and connect in new ways: No Digital Technology. No Work Talk. No Networking. Everyone uses a nickname (so you don’t feel tempted to network). No DJs or laptop music, it’s all live.
– We use analog activities (pinhole photography, creative writing on typewriters, woodworking) that campers can’t press “undo,” spellcheck or redo. We remind people that human error is beautiful.
– Our counselors are professionals in the fields of personal growth, play, improv, performance, health and wellness. (Musicians, artists, teachers, camp directors, yoga teachers, life coaches, etc.) They are also trained in the areas of play, non-violent communication and community building.
Does the California camp differ from the North Carolina camp? How so?
North Carolina will be different because of the campers who are coming [in August] and the geography. In California, we have a return rate of over 45 percent each year (almost half return every year). In North Carolina, 90 percent have never been to a Camp Grounded because it’s our first time doing this on that side of the country. The Wolfe Lake in North Carolina will provide amazing water sports; kayaking, canoeing, paddle boats and paddle boards.
What is the most common reaction to people having to give up their cell phones?
Relief, lowered anxiety and freedom.
Do you penalize people for sneaking in an iPhone?
We have never had anyone sneak in a phone or device.
What’s the most common activity there?
We offer over 25 “play shops” and activities including but not limited to tie-dye, potato printing, improv, truffle making, nature hikes, hip-hop dance classes, a capella harmony, basket weaving, ballroom dancing, yoga and more.
Is most of your clientele adults? What is the age range?
Ages have ranged from 19 to 72. They come from over 35 states and 14 countries, including Japan, Mexico, Australia, England, the US and Chile.
What is the takeaway for the adult campers? Anyone write letters after camp is over?
Yes, we receive beautiful letters and packages from campers throughout the year. The response is fantastic. Campers return to daily life and make major changes; many remove phones from their bedrooms and dining room tables, some decide to change career paths to something that fits more within their passion; others decide to take their families on camping trips. The community thrives after camp; it’s inspiring to see people create their own community events all over the country… organizing device-free gatherings that focusing on connection and play.
Looks like you only operate each camp at certain times of year; what goes on on the campgrounds the rest of the time?
Throughout the year, we host Digital Detox and Camp Grounded retreats for companies, organizations, private groups and families. However, in 2016 we will be expanding to 10 camps in the summer and two camps in the fall. In addition, we are in the process of acquiring our own property so we can provide programming and retreats year around.
What are the similarities between this camp and something we experience as a kid?
When you are a kid, the only place you need to be is where you currently are. You aren’t concerned with the future or the past, not busy thinking about work, money or stress. At camp, we find that adults fall into the same state of mind. This is one of the most important lessons of Camp Grounded; wherever you are is exactly where you are supposed to be.
It’s too late to visit the Northern California camp this year, but you’re not too late to book a stay in the Blue Ridge Mountains in August (27-30). Visit Camp Grounded’s site to find out more. The Henderson, NC camp is just 30 minutes from Asheville, or 45 minutes from Greensville, SC. Book your flight to either location and just rent a car. If you want to get into the camp spirit, take their shuttle from either airport; if flying into Charlotte, which is further away, you can take the camp bus.