Digital Detoxing, Part 1: Are you addicted to your devices?

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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.”

Click here for “Digital Detoxing, Part 2”

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.

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