Story Summary

Digital Detox

Say you wake up tomorrow morning and there are no cellphones, no computers, and no internet connections. Would you panic or feel liberated?

How you answer that question may say a lot about your relationship with your digital devices. WGN’s Nancy Loo reports that some people are digital detoxing.

Producer Pam Grimes and Photojounalists Steve Scheuer and Mike D’Angelo also contributed to this report.

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Say you wake up tomorrow morning and there are no cellphones, no computers, and no internet connections.  Would you panic or feel liberated?  How you answer that question may say a lot about your relationship with your digital devices. WGN’s Nancy Loo reports that some people are digital detoxing.

“If it’s not a text message it’s an email.  If it’s not an email it’s a Facebook message.  If it’s not a Facebook message it’s something else.  And it’s like mental tennis all day long.” Gavin Young is 30 years old, lives in Chicago, and is Operations Manager for a company that trades stock options. “I’ve gotten to the point now where I sleep text, sleep or respond to email, check my phone 3-4 times a night.  Wake up at 3 in the morning, look at it, roll over and go back to bed.  And that’s not good.”  “We don’t look at each other,” says Lori Mitchell. “ We don’t touch each other.  We’re very impersonal you know.”

Lori Mitchell is 34, lives in Chicago, and is a flight attendant for a major airline. “I find myself wanting to document all of my life.  And I wasn’t like that before I had an I-phone.  I didn’t take pictures of my food.” About a year ago, Lori saw a Facebook post from a close friend with a link to something called, “Camp Grounded.”  It was a brand new summer camp for adults.  Their mantra?

Disconnect to reconnect.

“I was very intrigued by what it would be like to go without for four days.”  Intrigued enough to mention it to her friend Gavin.   They both signed up.  And last summer set off on their adventure in Northern California. Levi Felix and his girlfriend, Brooke Dean, bounded Camp Grounded. “What role do our devices and tools play in our life?  And at what point do we get lost in them? We’re not anti- technology, we’re not against devices. I tell people I’m a geek at heart.”

Levi hit it big with a startup at 24.  He was doing what he loved, and it almost killed him.  “So I spent 3 days in ICU, nd got out and the doctor said ok you need to make change in your life.  No more coffee, no more staying out late, no more 80 hour work weeks.  No more you know sleeping with your cellphone.”

Dr. Niranjan Karnik is an associate professor of psychiatry at Rush.  “I try to practice what I preach.  I’m certainly one who has these challenges as well.” He says he’s always loved technology and is fascinated by how people use it.  “It’s a constantly moving wave.  And so technology is something that enters our lives in different ways, and we’re always going to be addressing it.  Broadly, the research that’s been done in this area shows us that people who are too connected to technology, who spend significant amounts of time online, or connected, actually tend to get depressed. They tend to feel isolated…even though they may be connected to people through these modalities.”

Chicago friends Lori and Gavin think it’s ironic they learned about Camp Grounded through social media.  Though they were eager to surrender their phones, they were completely unprepared for how uncomfortable the first few hours would be.

“They take away anything that you can use as a distraction, “ says Gavin.  “I can’t look at my phone to not make conversation with someone.  I can’t plug in my headphones to not make conversation with someone. You can’t talk about who you are and what you do for  a living.” Lori’s discomfort was for a different reason. “The device thing wasn’t quite as nerve wracking as letting go of my job.”

Every person there had paid to unplug, no phones, no digital cameras, no clocks.

Not even a cup of coffee.

They played games, ate healthy food, walked in the woods, and re-evaluated their dependency on digital devices and social media. “It’s really tough to take what we created at camp and transfer it into everyday life,” says Gavin.  “But you become more aware when you come back from something like that.”

Lori’s so glad she went and in fact has applied to be a camp counselor this summer. “There were times when it was really difficult.  But for the most part it was the most freeing thing I’ve ever done.”

Dr. Karnik says some people are certainly addicted to devices. “When I see people sitting in public spaces and the phone is right next to them on the table and they’re stroking it or petting it (laughs) I worry about that because then the device has become part of them, an extention of them in a way that maybe isn’t healthy.” We asked Gavin for a final thought. “I think the problem is not that  whole lot of people think there is a problem.”

If much of Nancy’s report is hitting home, it might be time to take a break.  We can ahow you some simple steps to get started, tomorrow night at nine.  Please share this link with family and friends.  And there are other helpful links here, including one to a printable guide to unplugging.

Producer Pam Grimes and Photojounalists Steve Scheuer and Mike D’Angelo contributed to this report.

For the first time in history, we can connect with anyone, anywhere, all the time. And that means we’re always on call, which can feel overwhelming.  Our Nancy Loo continues her reports on digital detoxing, by introducing us to a young man whose digital lifestyle almost killed him.  But who is now helping others find balance.

“Seemed like almost overnight everyone went from, “Hey Levi, stop sleeping with your cellphone, to…of course we all sleep with our cellphones, they’re our alarm clocks.” So last summer, Levi Felix picked up a megaphone, stood on a hay bale, and led scores of adult camera on a four day adventure in the woods of Northern California; no cellphones, no digital cameras, not even clocks.

It was the premier season of “Camp Grounded”, a camp he and his girlfriend founded, where people all over the world, paid to unplug.  “Our mantra is really disconnect to reconnect. What are we filling our lives with, with our devices that we can find in the people and the world around us?”

Chicago friends, Lori Mitchell and Gavin Young, participated in the first Camp Grounded, costumes, hula hoops, pie eating contests, and all. Lori says to Gavin, “We would see each other be like you good?  You good?  Ya!” Lori is a Chicago based flight attendant.  Her hours are flexible and she flies for free.  But, she started wondering if she was doing things because she wanted to, or if she was being driven by FOMO; which stands for “Fear of Missing Out.”

“One thing I learned at camp is the only reason we have that is because of social media.  If it wasn’t constantly in our face; look this is what you missed out on.” Post camp, Lori now challenges her friends to stop Googling answers.  Give it ten minutes she says.  Thinking of the answer is so much more rewarding.  Gavin works for a stock options trading company in Chicago.  He says “Camp Grounded” lessons come back to him every time he takes public transportation. “Riding the bus in the morning, you’ll see a row of 5 people that could be talking to each other and they’re all just doing this.

Dr. Niranjan Karnik says some people lover the rush of constant interactions.  For others, it’s become a burden, isolating, even addictive. “Some people describe little phantom feelings, that the phone is buzzing, even when it’s not.  I think that may indicate you’re a little bit too sensitive to this device.  And you need to create some distance.”

Here’s a short list of simple things you can do to begin digital detoxing:

Keep phones out of the bedroom and off the table. Leave the charger at home so you have to conserve battery power. And, make a list of all the things you’d like to accomplish with the time you’lll save.

Many people say they’d give anything to disconnect after hours.  But, their employers expect them to be reachable.  Dr. Karnik says research shows that leads to less productivity. “So when somebody goes on vacation, it needs to be a true vacation.  That’s the purpose. Then they’ll come back refreshed and renewed and actually more productive for their employers.”  Some hotels, like Hotel Monaco in Chicago, now offer a black-out option where checking-in means leaving your phones at the front desk.  “I never thought we’d be holding on to people’s cellphones,” says Hotel Monaco manager Marco Scherer.  Their tranquility suite provides sweeping views of the city.  The window seats are a comfortable space to enjoy the peace and quiet.  And rooms are filled with calming features like goldfish, board games, and yoga mats. “There’s a lot of interest,” says Scherer.  “But, I think there’s still a lot of people that are worried about leaving their phone at the front desk.” All of our experts say we love our cellphones because they’re so useful.

But, Dr. Karnik says, it’s all about the balance. “They should control the technology.  The technology shouldn’t control us.” Gavin says if you’re thinking of digital detoxing, go out for dinner with friends and leave the phones at home.  He calls it, “good practice.”  “And if it’s comfortable maybe that person has a pretty good balance in their life on the role technology plays. And if it’s uncomfortable- maybe they might want to take a closer look at that.”

A National Day of Unplugging is coming up March 7th and 8th from sundown to sundown.  The thinking is; if you can unplug for 24 hours, imagine the possibilities.

If you do decide to unplug, make sure you let your family and friends know so they don’t worry when they can’t reach you.   You can find and share links to both of our digital detox stories at  The links below will get you to the Camp Grounded website and to a printable unplugging guide that is filled with step by step instructions on taking digital vacations.

Producer Pam Grimes, and Photojournalists Steve Scheuer and Mike D’Angelo, contributed to this report.


Digital Detox: Could You? Would You?


How I usually roll: two smartphones, iPad + Mifi (nicknamed Mofo).

Many of my coworkers and friends find it ironic and amusing that I am fronting this week’s WGN Cover Story series on “digital detoxing”. I am among the most technology-addicted people in the newsroom. The morning camera crews still joke about how I cried when I dropped my iPhone two years ago while rushing to get into O’Hare for a story. I was so upset about the cracked screen, the guys even wondered if I’d have to go home sick.

But more and more people feel the need to address what’s likely an addiction for many of us. Digital detoxification means taking a break from your smartphone, computer and all other gadgets so you can actually talk with people and soak in all of the things you usually miss while looking down to check your email and social media accounts. The Chicagoans featured in our special report actually went away to a camp just for tech addicts. I imagined it starting with an initial Alcoholics Anonymous-style gathering: “Hi, I’m Big Tiny and I’m a techaholic.” But it’s nothing like that. The camp’s motto of “Disconnect to Reconnect” is something many of us should ponder.

My husband LOL’d when I told him about digital detoxing. He said, “You’d be like an unrepentant alcoholic at an AA meeting!” He’s right. And during that meeting I’d likely suffer a high level of anxiety. Being disconnected from the internet makes me worry about all of the emails and notifications stacking up – ready to blast away at me like machine gun fire when I reconnect. And because I’m in the news business, I want to stay connected so I don’t miss out on any major breaking news. Journalists are a competitive bunch – we want to know about things first, get it on the web and on the air first and be on the scene first. I do cut back when I’m off or on vacation.


Photojournalist Steve Scheuer shot and edited our “Digital Detox” series. Thanks, Steve!


Producer Pam Grimes did all of the heavy lifting on the story. Web producer Elyse Russo will be helping me out with Monday’s Google+ Hangout. Thanks, ladies!

Super producer Pam Grimes and photojournalist Steve Scheuer did all of the heavy lifting on the digital detox Cover Story segments. I am always proud to be associated with their work. Technology addiction is a timely topic since it’s likely you’re reading this now on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device after linking to it through social media.

To discuss digital detoxification further, I will be hosting a Google+ Hangout on Monday at 5pm CST. I hope you’ll join in and invite others via G+, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever. Perhaps we can talk each other into taking part the annual National Day of Unplugging, starting at sundown on March 7th and ending at sundown March 8th.  I don’t know if I can or even want to. It could lead to Big Tiny Breakdown Day on March 9th.