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South Bay Teenagers Attend A Digital Detox Camp

Originally Published By Judy Peterson For The Mercury News

A recent public opinion poll by the National Safety Council found that more than eight in 10 Americans think smart phones are addictive. Some forms of the addiction, like texting and driving, are deadly. Other forms may simply be disruptive.

While it may be easy to pick on smart phones, technology and gadgets in general can be addictive–just witness the people who can’t put their tablets down. Or video gamers who stay up into the wee hours of the morning with Laura Croft.

“I was never really super-attached to my phone, but I was glued to my desktop playing video games five or six hours a day,” Royce Allen said.

Royce lives in Saratoga and is a senior at Westmont High School in Campbell.

He was one of three local teens who attended a “digital detox” camp in Maine this summer.

The camp was the brainchild of Caitlin Hoffman of Los Gatos, who runs an after school academic coaching program for teens called “All Minds Matter.”

“The idea was to see if Silicon Valley kids would enjoy going to a place their parents would never take them,” Hoffman said. “It was a hoot. We went way above where tourists in Maine would ordinarily go.”

They went to Eastport, which is the easternmost city in the United States: population, 1,293.

In addition to Royce, the teens who agreed to digitally detox were David Kalcic of Sunnyvale and Camille Tabari of Los Gatos.

“It was quite the experience,” Camille said. “First of all it’s on the complete opposite side of the country, very different from Los Gatos.”

Although Camille gave up listening to music on her 3,000-song iPod, that was not what she missed most. “It was interesting to see what technology has the biggest impact on us,” she said. “It’s not texting or talking on the phone, it’s being able to look things up. We’d be talking about something, like what’s Elton John’s real name, and had no way to find out. When I went on the trip I found out I use technology more than I thought–here we use it mindlessly.”

When the kids didn’t have tech at their fingertips, they engaged in manual labor. “We went into Eastport and got out chain saws and a backhoe to clear a field for a skateboard park,” David said. “I didn’t feel like I needed my phone at all. There was always something to do.”

Before the trip, David estimated he spent seven hours a day this summer playing video games. “After the trip it was three hours a day,” he said.

David is a junior at Archbishop Mitty High School. “My freshman year I was distracted by video games and put school second. That was my issue.”

And that’s how he and Royce ended up at All Minds Matter in the first place.

“I’m here because I’d rather play video games than do homework,” Royce said.

David chimed in, saying, “Doing other things can be entertaining and can really help you realize that maybe you don’t need to be on the phone today.”

“We still go on,” Royce said. “Just not as much.”

While in Eastport, the kids couldn’t even watch TV, so the cord-cutting was complete. “You’d see the kids playing cards and making pancakes instead,” Hoffman said. “When I started this company eight years ago kids maybe had a flip phone. Now there are parents coming in saying, ‘My son is gaming all night or my daughter is on social media 24/7.’ So I’m grappling with this issue a lot.”

Hoffman also had an awakening in Eastport. She told the Quoddy Tides newspaper, “Friday and Saturday I need to unplug.”

The Quoddy Tides ran a lengthy account of the digital detox visit, which noted that the kids “worked with their hands, and they worked and talked alongside others. They were even lectured by two 10-year-olds, who set them straight about the importance of face-to-face friendships.”

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