Camp Grounded: Where People Pay $570 To Have Their Smartphones Taken Away From ThemWhen campers drive down a dusty road and pull into Camp Grounded, a digital-detox summer camp for adults, signs tacked onto the Northern California redwoods make it immediately clear what’s forbidden at camp.
“Prepare to step off the grid,” the signs say. No phones, computers or digital devices allowed. At the imposing arrival ceremony, campers line up and hand over their gadgets to counselors dressed in haz-mat suits who gingerly put them in brown bags and leave them in a “Robot Decontamination Area.”
That’s no surprise — in fact, campers have paid up to $570 to have their devices taken away from them for a weekend. They chose to spend four days not looking at screens but at the faces of their 300 fellow campers, who are all professionals yearning to trade their tech-weary life for a snippet of childhood. The first Camp Grounded, held last summer, was so successful that the camp offers three sessions this year, the last of which begins Friday.
Going phone-less is hard. But what’s harder to give up? Networking.
Campers not only abdicate their online personas at the camp, which is a two-hour drive from San Francisco. They also take on a camp name — like Barnaby, Topless, Popcorn or Honey Bear — and can’t talk about their job. In fact, it’s so taboo you can’t even say the word.
“Shh — we don’t talk about ‘W’ here!” a camper said on Sunday when I explained that Forbes was doing a story on the camp.
Work-Free ZoneThe camp bans networking to put campers on an even playing field and to give them a chance to be silly, said camp director Levi Felix, who goes by Fidget Wigglesworth. And campers appreciate the ability to be silly — to lounge on the grass, paint their faces, sing camp songs by saying “meow” instead of the lyrics — without worrying about their reputation in the outside world.
But as more young professionals seek deep fulfillment from their careers, a job title becomes a point of pride and a reflection of values. The type of people Camp Grounded attracts are the most likely to pursue a career that’s driven by passion — which means, ironically, they’re the least equipped to talk about themselves outside of “W.”“I do what I love. I get into ‘W’ talk very easily,” said Daniel Teweles, a 30-year-old entrepreneur from Los Angeles who went by Shtetl Fabulous for the weekend. “It’s been really awkward to not start with that.”
That blunt ban means people have to find a creative way around introductions. Without the middle-ground of work talk, conversations become either superficial — how’s the weather, what are you doing right now? — or very deep, Teweles said.
For Benjamin Packard, a 30-year-old video producer from Oakland, not being able to talk about work was the strangest part of camp.
“It made me realize is a huge part of my identity revolves around my profession,” he said. “Not only that, but I also use it to superficially judge people, that the second someone gives me their profession, I use that to determine where they are in the hierarchy of our society. And the same with mine: I realize I use it as a crutch. I have what I think is a very interesting job and I use it to start conversations, and I use it to make friends.”
Felix, a high-energy, mustachioed man who spent all of Sunday in the vintage pajamas he wore to that day’s pajama brunch, started the camp after his high-stress Los Angeles job landed him in the hospital with a torn esophagus. He took several years off to travel in Southeast Asia, came back, started holding small digital detox retreats and expanded the business. Now he’s the only one who gets to talk about “W” at camp.
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