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I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough!: The evolving world of digital detoxes and Internet addiction

Fancy camping: Welcome to your digital detox

These programs might sound like options for addiction treatment, but in reality they’re — at best — places where the well-heeled internet abuser might gain a little perspective. That’s provided said abuser isn’t turned off by purple language they employ to describe themselves.

The Digital Detox is a personal wellness retreat organization located in Ukiah, California where participants are asked to give up all electronics in exchange for a weekend of wilderness fun and relaxation. “Our mission at The Digital Detox is to provide people with the opportunity and permission to put aside their digital arm and ‘re-format’ their own personal hard-drives…  so they can return to their job and family feeling rejuvenated and relaxed, with a new found perspective, in order to live a more balanced life online and off.” The brochure-speak continues: 

The fear-mongering combined with ritzy outdoor trip packages feels mildly manipulative.

“The Digital Detox is a tech-free personal wellness retreat where attendees give up their smart-phones and gadgets in exchange for four days of serenity and bliss. Yoga, meditation, hiking, hot-tubs, art/writing workshops, and healthy eating in a natural and tranquil environment help one gain balance, perspective and a piece of mind.” 

“…Each morning will begin with tea and fresh fruit, followed by an enlightening two hour session of guided Yoga, Meditation and Asana Breathe work led by Gina Zappia, and an ayurvedic breakfast. Then unravel and soak in the wine barrel hot tub as your body begins to align with the natural environment. After a gourmet organic vegetarian lunch, we will take a guided meditative wilderness hike through the Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve. Art workshops, group discussions, writing prompts, hot tub soaking and baking class will fill the early afternoons, and participants will have ample personal time to read their favorite book along the nearby stream, nap in a hammock, or just enjoy the natural surroundings. Organic vegetarian dinners will delight the senses, from Thai-Cambodian fusion cuisine to delicious raw appetizers. Evening activities such as a stargazing, bonfires and journaling will surely open the mind for creative thought. After hours, take a dip in the hot tub at anytime of the night under the starlit sky.”

detox activitiesThere are many personal stories and anecdotes about the digital detox experience, but the consensus is rather unanimous: They are relaxing, health-minded vacations from the constant buzz of being connected. But does that make these retreats just a momentary fix or a legitimate way to treat or identify addiction?

Greenfield says digital detoxes aren’t a new concept. It’s the same as taking someone out of a situation or environment they’re most accustomed to and encouraging them to form better habits through guided practice. When asked about the difference between digital detox camps and his practice of providing psychological and clinical to battle serious technology-related addiction, Greenfield explains that although there are a few overlaps in terms of methods and techniques, there are also vast differences. “In addictionology, the term ‘detox’ implies just that, to detoxify from the use and abuse of a substance or behavior, which in this case is excessive technology use. However, typically there is some form of treatment that follows the detoxification and that’s where we come in. There has to be a comprehensive plan to address triggers, urges and cravings, relapse prevention, as well as technical blocks and filters and monitoring to help manage and change the neurological pattern of behavior,” Greenfield elaborates.

The Digital Detox retreat is mostly focused on promoting relaxation and peace of mind through a digital noise-free environment as well as a healthy diet, and meditation modules are spearheaded by an experienced Yoga instructor. According to Greenfield – who has not had first-hand experience with digital detox camps – this type of program is a fine way to take time off from the hustle and bustle of the digital world, but it ‘s probably not enough to tackle deeply rooted addiction to technology and the Internet. “Detox is the first step to any recovery process for any form of addiction, including one relating to technology. In order for it to have a longer lasting effect, it needs to be followed up by constant and habit-forming practice. A weekend in the wilderness may help achieve short-term relief, but it is definitely not enough for people with more serious addictions. You need follow-up steps.”

The price of unplugging ‘in style’

While relaxation and self-reflection are keys to tech-free “detoxes,” these off-the-grid options might not actually aid hard-to-manage technology habits, and they also come at incredibly expensive prices. The Digital Detox package, for example, costs anywhere between $595 and $1,400. Lake Placid Lodge New York’s “Check-In To Check-Out” Package starts at of $1,340, and that’s not including taxes and resort charges. These prices make it harder to justify “programs” that are relatively comparable to an unplugged camping trip. For the average Internet over-abuser, you could easily argue there’s no need for instructors, therapists, chefs, or camp facilitators – you’re your own program designer.

There are a lot of ways you can do your own digital detox more affordably, but it requires a lot of self-control and discipline. Here are a couple of examples from The Facebook Diet:

  • Download Macfreedom.com, an app that manages the amount of time you can be online.
  • Contemplate the zillions you’ve helped Zuckerberg and Co. make, and the cash you’d be earning if you weren’t on Facebook all day long!
  • Join a real club (one with real live human interaction, spit, warts, bad breath and all!).
  • Take time to sit down with your family and give them a real-time, in-person status update.
  • Power down for 24 hours each week and subscribe to the Undolist.com for ideas on what to do with your tech-free time.

You can even consider fully unplugging on weekends (easier said than done, of course) and focus on outdoor activities you enjoy but usually neglect. You can maintain a social media schedule – keep it short if you intend to do it daily. When you’re overwhelmed with tech-intensive activities, go on mini-breaks and use apps and sites like Motivation RPG to keep you engaged in short, away-from-keyboard activities.

Weighing the worth

Internet and technology addiction, just like any over-reliance on alcohol and drugs, is a very real and very serious problem for a small percentage of online users in the country (according to Greenfield, the number is around five to six percent), but the reality is, unless you have zero control over your impulses, your probably don’t need to seek professional help.

The point is that we’re constantly being told we’re digitally addicted and should consider spending (a lot of) money on unplugged vacations – but the fear-mongering combined with ritzy outdoor trip packages feels mildly manipulative. For starters, actual Internet and digital addiction is very different than overuse, as previously discussed. Secondly, if you are an addict, a detox is but the first stop – and if you aren’t, then … well, you might be just as well off opting for a DIY detox.

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