First Bars, Now Camps: The Tech-Free Trend is Catching On

I don't consider myself a cell phone addict. I don't bring my phone to the dinner table, and I don't text while I'm in class (well, you know, not more than the average person). But I still catch myself checking my emails in the middle of the night, or wasting away precious travel moments taking dozens of pictures of the same building. We've all been there. A new trend is catching on for the likes of, well, me and everybody else: Designated tech-free spaces where we can leave compulsive text message-checking at the door.

I first heard about this trend in a New York Times piece about a Device Free Drinks party at Jones, a San Francisco lounge, where hosts Levi Felix and his girlfriend Brooke Dean asked guests to check their phones at the door for an evening of wireless fun.

Now Felix and Dean are taking their tech-free project to the next level with a unplugged retreat, the Digital Detox. Last summer, the couple hosted their first session in the Redwoods in Northern California. This year's session, dubbed Camp Grounded, was held in June. Tickets were $350, and the retreat sold out completely.

"We create an atmosphere for personal freedom, creative thinking, liberation from technology, and a space from the working world where we can all once again be…human,” explains the Camp Grounded website. This Digital Detox is not the only retreat of its kind. New York's Lake Placid Lodge and Chicago's Hotel Monaco also offer tech-free stays.

It's a bit eerie that we actually need these retreats to unplug, but there's actually a psychological explanation behind it. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, 67 percent of phone users check their devices even when they're not vibrating or ringing. And 29 percent of respondents described their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without." Respondents aren't crazy—research suggests cell phone users actually exhibit signs of addiction, including difficulty cutting down digital activity.

The organizers of Digital Detox and other tech-free projects aren't asking you to ditch your phone completely, only to reconsider how you use it. “I’m a geek, I’m not a Luddite,” Felix told the New York Times . “I love that technology connects us and is taking our civilization to the next level, but we have to learn how to use it, and not have it use us.” Let's start with the basics, like keeping your phone tucked away when you're out for dinner.