The concept was simple; rent out an old boy scout campsite deep in the redwood forest of Northern California and give adults the chance to play and connect like kids again, sans technology. It was catchy and immediately went viral complete with a tweet from Arianna Huffington herself, coverage from CNN and Canada’s national news service. Tech bloggers spread the story with glee, and the website was tweeted and shared so much that camp sold out minutes after tickets were released. In this over-stimulated multi-screen world, a summer camp for adults to get grounded hit a collective nerve.
Levi Felix, the mastermind of another smaller more intimate tech-free retreat called The Digital Detox, learned from his pervious guests how disconnected they felt to each other and how bogged down they were with typical networking events. He developed Camp Grounded to be radically different by setting down rules that included checking your watches and devices at the door, no W talk (work), anonymity by using no real names (only made up nicknames like Sparky or Short Stack), and no discussion of age. Meet people, talk to them, like them or not, but base it on who they are and not what they do.
Camp Grounded was created to nurture the soul from the gourmet vegan meals, to the stunning setting in nature and the daily activities of play. The camp’s programming literally aimed to cover an entire summer in 4 days.
If you have ever been to summer camp as a kid, some things have not changed. The bathroom is still a serious 15-minute hike away and the showers suck. It gets really cold at night and you need flashlights and fires to stay warm. The stars sparkle overhead peaking through majestic trees. The air is clean and fresh. There is a stream and a swim hole to cool off in. Hiking is awesome — just try to avoid the ticks. Spontaneous sing-alongs are encouraged. Pranks are pulled by rival teams, and just like in real summer camp everyone is sober — which made real connections easier, not harder.
Traditional camp activities allowed maxed out campers to decompress from life and rediscover the power of play, without judgment. Color wars? Check. Camp teams and cheers? Check. Leather and friendship bracelet making. Yep. Looking for something more sophisticated than a round of archery? Try superfood truffle making, pickling, Thai massage or Israeli folk dancing. Days of camp alternated between nature, nurture, burner and learner. The camp peaked with an 80’s prom complete with a cover band. And the crowd went wild.
This social experiment created no publicity, but received tons. It gave campers a chance to bond over a silent meal, a game of flag football, or a guitar and a campfire. Adults teased, prodded and entertained each other with childlike abandon. Technology was forgotten and replaced with human to human interaction. Digital cameras were replaced with film.
And when it was all over…the group page on Facebook for Camp Grounded was hijacked and blew up with post after post by rabid campers who needed to know who each other was, to relive and reconnect. It was out of control, and finally had to be put on lockdown for a digital detox. Ironic, yes, but indicative of how impactful true connections in reality can have in our virtual worlds. Disconnect to reconnect is one of the mottos of Camp Grounded and it says it all.