camp buddies

Camp buddies (L to R) Caro, Sophia, and Adriana

A few weeks ago I had the chance to pick up my 14-year old niece Adriana from a 3-week summer camp session in the mountains of North Carolina. Talking with her about her experience at camp, and her re-entry back into “reality” spurred some thoughts that I wanted to share in this 2-part blog series.


This post, Part 1, revolves around the benefits and realities of “retreating” or “disconnecting”. Part 2 (coming soon) revolves around how we might consider being kinder in rewarding ourselves.


The difference a cell phone fast can make
Cell phones or other mobile technology devices are not allowed at Camp Eagle’s Nest, where my niece went for three weeks this summer. My guess is that most folks probably view that policy as a good thing. But whether one labels it as good, bad or something else, there’s no question it made a positive difference in the quality of my niece’s camp experience.


At 44, it’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like being a 14-year old these days, but just being in the same room or car while my niece is engaged in Instagramming her friends challenges the sense of calm I so cherish. Every 15 seconds or so, a quick, loud double-vibration (“BZZZ  BZZZ”) religiously emits from her smartphone as another message comes in, often while she’s still typing away, responding to a message she got 15 or 30 seconds ago.


Being free of constant electronic communication helps us be more present


So, when I asked my niece how it went without the cell phone for three weeks, to my surprise, she said, “Fine.” A little incredulous, and knowing how engrossed she gets in her Snapchat and other forms of constant communication during non-camp life, I probed a little deeper. It turns out, believe it or not, that she actually welcomed not having that around while she was in camp.

How could that be? Well, she was able to (in her words) “be more present” without the constant electronic communication. At camp, they have activities scheduled from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed, and teveryone’s fully engrossed in those, so they don’t have time to think about all the group chats that are going on in Instagramland while they’re disconnected. They still think about their friends back home, but only as it relates to sharing with their fellow camp peeps what their lives back home are like. Remembering those not present in camp is a way to connect more deeply with those who are present, right in front of them, in the flesh. How old-timey and nice.


Sharing about those not here is a way to connect more deeply with those who are

I had brought my niece’s phone with me in the car when I picked her up. The number of unread chat messages she had accrued during her stay in camp was in the thousands!! (OMG, KMN.) And even without diving into those old messages during the 3-hour car ride back, she mentioned with a sense of longing that she wished she didn’t have to reconnect, and just stay in camp. I could understand – just being in the same room with all the phone-buzzing and the clicking and the multi-tasking tends to fray my nerves.


“I wish I could stay in camp”


So, I asked, “What’s keeping you from just putting your phone away?” She said, “Well, all the camp friends started a group chat, so that’s how we’re staying connected now. And besides… I don’t know.” Yeah, I honestly don’t know either, for us non-campers and non-teenagers. It’s just easier said than done, I suppose.


I’m not sure what the solution is, but what I take away from talking to my niece about the texting fast she experienced in summer camp, and then re-entering “reality” afterward, is how precious and valuable “being present” is.


Being present is precious and valuable

And it’s not an either/or thing either. There’s no point in proclaiming technology as evil and dropping out of email and texts and Facebook. But maybe we can benefit from actively setting up times to disconnect, be present, and connect more deeply with those who are physically with us. Or maybe even to be present when we’re alone, and connect more deeply with ourselves.


I know, I know… I’m not saying anything revolutionary, or super insightful. Less technology, more being present—yeah, thanks for the tip, right? Somehow, I just found it to be particularly poignant hearing from a modern day 14-year old how that was true for her. Thanks for the reminder, Adriana!


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this “Summer Camp” series dealing with why we choose to reward ourselves.