Welcome to digital detox camp, no phones allowed

Camp Grounded lets grown-ups relive their summer camp days, but only after surrendering all their digital devices.

If you miss going to summer camp or never got a chance to go as a kid, Camp Grounded promises to give adults all the fun camp activities without any of the distractions from modern tech.

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There is face-painting, but no Facebook. There is a postal mailbox, but no email. Instead of user names, there are camp names. Status updates are mini-chalkboards worn around the neck. The only tech allowed is the digital camera of the camp historian.

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A camper who goes by "Benefits" takes a rest. Jared Kohler/CNET

Camp Grounded co-founder Levi Felix says the goal is to give people a break from the daily digital interruptions.

"We live in a world where the average person spends between 8 and 12 hours on a screen. Our campers spend an average of 13 hours based on surveys," Felix said. "So when you can come and just unplug for extended periods of time, and play and create and explore, and interact with people without it being about what do you do for a living or what's your job title, that is incredible."

When campers first arrive at Camp Grounded, which is nestled in the redwoods at Camp Navarro in Northern California's Anderson Valley, enthusiastic counselors greet them with cheers and hugs. Campers are offered homemade cookies with almond milk and select nicknames like Hey Girl, Dream, Mowgli, Love Handles, Lady Bug, and Topless (who apparently only wears shirts 2 percent of the time even when he's not at camp.) There are signs reminding campers to leave their tech and live in the now. You can even get a haircut under a tree. The vibe is summer camp and weekend retreat with a dose of hippie commune.

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Jared Kohler/CNET

Even before campers check in at registration, they are handed a paper bag in which to place their electronics. Most campers brought their phones. A few also had tablets and laptops. The bags are kept with valuables that are locked up for the weekend. If there's an emergency, the camp can send and receive calls and emails. Even if you wanted to Instragram or Tweet you couldn't because there's no cell signal in the area.

First-time camp participant "Dreamalicious," who flew in from Washington, D.C., was fighting the urge to take pictures after she dropped her Galaxy Note 2 into the paper bag.

"Hopefully I'm not clawing for it and looking for it everywhere," she said. "I just really want to start living in the moments and not constantly be looking to capture the moment and show everybody."

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Jared Kohler/CNET

To keep campers entertained without their tech, Camp Grounded offers workshops on everything from yoga to archery to truffle making to hip-hop dance to making fire with sticks. There also are traditional camp activities like capture the flag, swimming, and crafting friendship bracelets.

The cost is $570, which covers lodging in three-walled cabin, activities and sustainable, gourmet meals. The camp is in its second year and has expanded from one session to three, with session accommodating 250 campers. Felix says 40 percent of the campers from last year are returning. This year, he says there are people flying in from 32 states and 5 countries, with an age range of 19 to 81.

A camper named "Love Handles," who lives in San Francisco, came back for a second year. He said when he returned from the camp last year he was able to better connect with other people.

"When you live in San Francisco, you see people every day that you don't interact with. You don't acknowledge people on the street," he explained. "That changed when I came back. I was much more open and willing to talk to people, even casual encounters."

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Jared Kohler/CNET

While it's literally fun and games at Camp Grounded, the inspiration for the digital detox came from a life-threatening situation. Felix said several years ago he was working so hard as vice president of a Los Angeles tech company that he didn't realize he was sick. By the time he went to the hospital, he had to spend three days in the ICU after doctors found a tear in his esophagus. After that health scare, he decided to take some time off and eventually figured others would want to get off the grid temporary. When Felix talks about recharging, he's not referring to batteries.

"My goal with campers coming to the camp is for them to leave feeling recharged, feeling a new sense of self and feeling like opportunity is possible."

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Camp Grounded group photoCourtesy: Daniel N. Johnson / danieljohnson.is

Camp Grounded definitely seeks to solve a first-world problem by taking us back to simpler times. The founders don't hate tech and aren't asking people to give it up permanently. This is digital detox after all, not digital rehab. And you can bet that soon after campers return, they were connecting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with their new friends from camp.

 

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