In case you somehow missed it, what you’re supposed to be doing this summer is going to sleepaway camp. Not your kids; you. You need camp so you can reconnect with that simpler, happier version of yourself that once upon a time toasted marshmallows and caught poison ivy and got short-sheeted by bullies and nearly drowned canoeing across the lake in the middle of the night. Ah, the good old days! And the big hook for these new grown-up camps is: They’re technology-free. That’s right; you won’t be chained to your iPhone on your trip to camp; like Matt Haber, who wrote this weekend’s New York Times trend piece, you’ll be getting hugs and skinny-dipping and coming up with a cool camp nickname for yourself. (Matt’s was “Brooklyn.” Of course it was “Brooklyn.”)
Matt paid $300 for two nights at Camp Grounded, organized by a California group, Digital Detox, that aims to get people to “disconnect to reconnect.” He slept in a lean-to and ate too many lentils (meat—in particular, bacon—became a black-market prize on his weekend) and was forbidden by camp rules to divulge his real name, much less network or talk about his job. Here’s how he describes the goal: “By removing the things that supposedly ‘connect’ us in this wireless, oversharing, humble-bragging age, the founders of Digital Detox hoped to build real connections that run deeper than following one another on Twitter or ‘liking’ someone’s photo on Instagram.”
In case you’re reading “real connections” as S-E-X, Matt assures his readers that the camp atmosphere magically returns attendees to their middle-school “pre-adolescent state of innocent crushes”; there’s a lot of hand-holding and the ever-present hugging, but no getting it on. That, another attendee tells Matt, is because the affection in the air is so “authentic.” Yet another attendee, whose camp name is “Tater Tot,” has this to share: “I didn’t expect there to be so much love and freedom and acceptance.” All this, and singing “If I Had a Hammer” too!
As I read Matt’s piece, it struck me that grown-ups have a different opportunity to obtain an “authentic” camp experience. Instead of paying big bucks for two days of authenticity, why not just go for the real thing? There are any number of organizations in the Delaware Valley aimed at providing summer-camp experiences for young people, starting with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Camp Fire organization, and the Boys & Girls Clubs. And they need volunteers—the adults such organizations rely on to keep them afloat. Most of their camps make you leave your cell phone at the door, just like Camp Grounded. Most of them have Capture the Flag and toasted marshmallows, too. They’re even more authentic than the pseudo-kid-camp experience, because—duh—they’re actually authentic. The difference is, you won’t be dedicating your time and money to helping yourself. You’ll be helping somebody else—kids, in particular—instead.
Volunteering your time and energy and fire-building skills to a youth organization may not be as trendy as going to a no-tech camp for grown-ups. But chances are the stars overhead will look even brighter when you’re giving instead of paying to get. Try it next time, Matt.