x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Trendspotting: Digital detox camp

A "summer camp for adults" in California bans all technology, aiming to alleviate the stress that comes with an accelerated lifestyle.

You're given a valuable object to look after. You have to take this object with you wherever you go; it can't ever be out of your immediate vicinity. The object is fragile. If you drop it, it may break. At night, you should sleep with the object under your pillow so that the first thing you can do when you wake up is check that it's still there.

Sounds painful, right? And yet those lines sum up the relationship that millions of us do have with our smartphones.

According to Pew Research, 65 per cent of adults who own a smartphone sleep with it in or right next to their bed. That single statistic tells you almost everything you need to know about the relationship we have cultivated with our technology.

But now, technology and media elites in California - among the most voracious consumers of technology in the world - are pausing for thought when it comes to the connected lifestyle. Some of the most up-to-date are attending Camp Grounded (www.campgrounded.org), a "summer camp for adults" in northern California meant to alleviate the stress that comes with an accelerated lifestyle.

At Camp Grounded, no phones, computers, tablets or watches are allowed. Neither is work talk or use of real names. Instead, attendees participate in "playshops" that include laughing contests and writing sessions. Meanwhile, a host of digital detox resort packages are springing up across the US: the Lake Placid Lodge's Check-In to Check-Out package requires guests to give up all devices upon check-in.

Of course, the digital detox movement is nothing new. But programmes such as Camp Grounded point to the rising importance that many - including many in California, the digital capital of the world - are ascribing to a renegotiated relationship with the technology that surrounds us.

That impulse is understandable. Not so long ago, it was possible to think that we'd never see a technological advancement as fast and as head-spinning as that seen during the 20th century. The changes we've seen since the mid-1990s make that idea seem absurd. Along with such rapid change, though, comes the feeling that we are becoming servants of the tools we have created: that we are chained to, not liberated by, the networks and the devices that give us access to it.

Really, though, this is all only a new manifestation of a feeling that is as old as in the industrial revolution: the feeling that we are being overtaken, even enslaved, by our technology. It's just that the feeling is growing particularly acute now because technology has become integral to our daily lives, our relationships and our work in a way it wasn't before.

So what is the solution? Programmes such as Camp Grounded are good fun and no doubt they do bring about a temporary alleviation of stress. But the real solution will need to run deeper. We need a new body of thought - a new philosophy - that defines our relationship with technology and helps us understand our feelings about it. The formation of that philosophy is one of the central intellectual challenges of the 21st century.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your laptop and start thinking.

David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com

Go to www.thenational.ae/trends for more trends


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