In the intro blog post, I gave away the theme of this post, so I hope someone who read that actually reads this....
That theme would be – the relationship of technology to camp. Why write about this? Well, we just started a new blog, on a revamped website that has a FaceBook feed built in – it’s as good a time to write about this as any.Obviously there is a major distinction to be made. The summer vs the off season. The relationship between “camp” and technology shifts drastically, as does the very concept of “camp” the day that the camp session ends. During the summer, camp refers to a place, and more importantly, a physical community. When Monique yells “Good Morning Maine Teen Camp”, she is not expecting the lodge or ropes course to answer her. During the non-summer months, when we say camp, we mean either the physical facility (cold and lonely right now) or our community which is now scattered to all corners of the world. So, in the off season, technology plays an indispensible and growing role in keeping our camp community together. We rely on email to keep in contact with staff and parents, a website to recruit new staff and parents, and tools like FaceBook to keep the friendships made over the summer moving forward to the next time we can be in the same location. During the off-season, technology is our ally! Then comes the day when buses and parents cars roll into camp, and all of a sudden, the internet gets way more complex.
On the one hand, parents like being able to see frequently updated photos of their happy campers, or get a one line email
“Send oreos, Billy smells like feet, the lake is cold, I love my cabin”. On the other, the distraction of a cell phone or internet-connected iPod can completely undermine the most talented counselor on staff, or create undue stress for a parent hundreds of miles away by hearing about a problem that can be swiftly solved by a cabin counselor.
Truthfully, it is not even the physical devices, the actual technology that threatens the magic of camp. Cell phones are banned, can be locked away. iPods can be respectfully turned off, and never be online to begin with. Hardware isn’t the real issue, its what the technology is doing to us, on a daily/hourly basis, that is cause for concern. The expectations of constant connectivity and instant access are in many ways the opposite of what summer camp is trying to do. When a camper or staff is in a summer camp environment, they are forced to be fully “present” – engaged completely and willingly in the activity and people around them. When in camp, a person becomes attuned to the rhythms of the community, of the woods around them, and most importantly the self. They understand when they are hungry or tired, excited or content, bored or deliriously happy. Basically, they are forced to listen to their inner voice, to be in touch with their own dialogue. An always on internet connection would allow us to check out of the present the very moment there is a lull in the action. Even when there is not a lull, we still feel the urge to reach for a device to check email or status updates. Observe a couple on a date next time you are at a restaurant. See if both have the will power to resist checking their phone every few minutes….
So what does this mean for camp? Should camping give into the gravitational pull of our beloved tech? Of course not (surprise!). Instead, camp can be the place that allows us a time out, to take a step back from the bleeding edge of tech, and a step towards a better understanding of what we may be losing or have already lost. Camp, in its immediacy and all encompassing nature, provides a place where we can put down the tech and replace the online community with an offline one. In camp, we can become reacquainted with the pure joy of a game of actual foursquare, not checking in on FourSquare. In camp, we can listen to wonderful sounds of the music of the breeze on a lake, and share it with a friend by tapping their shoulder, not sending a link. In camp, we can selfishly hold onto the private jokes that only your cabin mates know, without feeling the need to hit the forward button. Why does this matter? It matters because we have no idea what the constant presence of the internet and tech will have on our psychology. It is a safe bet though to say that those who possess the ability to make tech a tool that works for them, who know when to use it and when its time to turn it off, and listen to nothing for a while, who are in tune with their environment as well as their online network, and can maintain eye contact and a face to face conversation better than instant chat, will be a lot better off than those who are at the mercy of their tech. Camp has always been a bubble, separate from the real world in subtle ways. The limiting of connectivity may turn out to be the most important of those ways.