I went to CAMP, curated by Unique LA, and they took my phone for four days. I was warned, which is not the same as being prepared.
This isn’t going to be one of those stories about how I disconnected from technology, hugged a llama (okay, actually, I totally hugged a llama) and found my true self.
This won’t end with me returning to daily life dedicated to unplugging. I haven’t set a reminder to turn off my phone and, last night, I was looking at Instagram as I started to fall asleep. That said, I did learn something really important when I was stripped of my phone.
I thought I was pretty prepared for my four-day CAMP experience. I packed layers, signed up for workshops, remembered to bring a hat and set my out of office email with a cute little photo provided by the Unique team. I arrived at the Unique LA HQ on time, picked up my giant bag of CAMP goodies and hopped on a bus.
I chatted with my seatmates on the two-hour ride, all of us alternating between talking and phone-ing. When we hit the camp, a functioning YMCA camp in Big Bear that had been outfitted for us—basically, the place was hipster-bombed—the first order of business was dumping our stuff in our rooms. Then, we gathered together as a group to meet our counselors and trade our phones for a low-tech Casio watch.
Dropping my phone into its little canvas bag with my name on it, I felt nothing. Not yet. I was excited and nervous about the next few days. I didn’t need my phone.
CAMP was, in many ways, the fantastic experience I knew it would be. I took workshops, did yoga twice a day, spent tons of time outside in nature and met truly inspiring and interesting people — I haven’t fully decompressed and I think the bigger lessons will take some time to gel.
It was also harder than I thought it might be. It turns out that I know nothing about trying to breathe at 7,200 feet, I’d forgotten that I don’t enjoy sharing quarters with strangers (lovely though they were) and didn’t really consider that I would likely have trouble bonding with 200 new people without alcohol as a social lubricant.
My first night at CAMP was like all of my other first nights in new places—I wanted to go home.
I remembered being a kid at Happy Hollow Girl Scout camp thinking, “Happy my ass. This was a terrible idea.” And then, in high school, arriving at Wellesley College for a 3-week summer program and thinking, “Shit.” And, when my parents left me in my first dorm room thinking, “Oh fuck, I am going to, like, LIVE here.”
Like CAMP, all of those situations happened without smartphones. I didn’t have a way to get comfort from anyone else on those first nights. I was alone and I had to go to sleep and get ready to wake up and dig in.
Digging in at Girl Scout camp meant writing my parents hateful letters every day until the last day when I wrote to say I was having fun and wanted to stay. In high school, it meant locating the smokers and being moody—which was also my approach in college with the addition of beer. But the first nights, in all of these situations, I was alone in a bed with no recourse.
My first night at CAMP, as most people wandered to the late night tents to drink cocktails and bond, I went to my room. Yes, I could have gone and had a soda. Theoretically. In reality, I simply couldn’t.
So, I walked back to my room, hoping not to encounter a mountain lion or snake, and got in bed. I desperately wanted to text my husband. I thought about what his response to my despair would be: “You’ll be fine. Have fun tomorrow.” Useless fucker.
Then I imagined what my best friend would say, “Oh no! Are you okay?” Then I imagined the wallowing I would indulge in, and how the 865 texts back and forth would feel good for a while, and then make me feel worse and even more alone.
Even though it wouldn’t have been what I wanted to hear, I took my husband’s phantom text advice and went to bed. I got up early and dug in.
This time, digging in didn’t mean getting angry or self-destructive. It meant that I got up early every day and went to yoga. I talked to people. I talked to more people. I went to workshops. I ate meals and made friends. I did camp stuff. I hugged a llama. I had fun.
Me and my llama
The only time I really missed my phone was when I wanted to show a new friend a photo of my life back home—which was really a desire to connect more with the present, not to escape into technology. [Insert back pat.]
What I found out is that it’s not the phone I am addicted to, it’s the security of being able to instantly connect with people that know me. People that love me. People who will save me from having to work through the tough shit myself.
What I learned is that I am perfectly capable of talking myself out of my own pity party and digging in without self-destructing. I have no plans to go phoneless. Ever. But, I do think I can commit to pausing before texting or emailing and think about whether I might be able to work through the issue on my own.
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Images: The Unique CAMP, Libby Lowe