Social media and digital methods like email have become the primary methods of communicating with the camp community year-round, and with parents during the summer. What does it mean for a proudly offline summer experience to rely so heavily on platforms like Instagram to put the comm in community? How does our use of digital tech resonate with what we teach campers and staff?
I’m not sure how many of our campers, staff, and parents read this , I suspect it’s not too many. But of those who do, are you aware that MTC has an Instagram feed that is just a single daily photo of the waterfront at camp? Taken from a fixed camera at the same time of day, it is a simple, beautiful way of keeping camp in the minds of our campers and staff, all year round.
Maybe you or your camper uses FaceTime to call and chat with camp friends around the world FOR FREE (a shocking development to those of us old enough to remember long distance charges). Perhaps you follow our MTC Facebook page to get photo updates during the summer, a marvelously convenient way to keep up to date with what’s happening at camp. Maybe you even read our newsletters, to get updates on camp and some interesting reading or listening suggestions for teens or the parents of teens.
The point it, MTC has quite a large social media, and Internet, footprint. We use social media quite a lot to communicate with our little community, as well as to reach those who might consider joining us next summer. We use our electronic tools to maintain cheap, effective, and convenient communications with parents, staff, and alumni. We are, after all, as small business, and these are the tools a small business uses. But there is an in-congruence here.
I’m sure all of you are aware of at least half a dozen aspects of social media that have been shown to have a detrimental effect on our communities and on individuals and we've advocated digital detoxing in the past. Whether it’s stories of trolls harassing those they don’t agree with, the viral spread of fake news stories, or algorithms showing only one type of “news” to a user, the impacts on society seem obvious. The potential for damage to individuals, particularly young people, seems limitless – online harassment takes a million forms, the addictive qualities built into social media platforms disturb social relationships, sleep and study, and the vast trove of personal information given up is not used for the individuals benefit.
For both Monique and I, we are torn about camp’s relationship to social media. We see that social media has deep flaws, and the potential to do great harm to young people. And yet, we see the beneficial role social media and other digital platforms play in maintaining the ties that bind our community members to each other. We hear the stories from parents of camp friends separated by time zones and vast distances able to keep up daily conversations, we see photos of friends from multiple cities or even countries meeting up to spend time together.
And this helps point us to how we can resolve the disparity between what we understand and observe with rampant use of social media, constant Internet connections and problematic device use; and the community building power that these technological innovations have enabled. How does a camp that proudly creates a device free environment reconcile the use of social media and electronic communications for marketing?
By understanding that technology is a tool. By taking the time to be intentional. By understanding the costs that come with the benefits, and making an informed decision as to how to balance those costs. And hopefully, we can achieve a balance that models for our campers (and our staff) that it is worth our while to do the work needed to ensure we are controlling the technology, not vice versa.
A final point – we strongly believe that some of the best value a summer at camp holds is in the lived experience it provides campers. In this case, the lived experience of being tech free, for a few weeks at least. When campers feel relieved of the burden to be checking a phone, feel free to risk failure knowing that failure won’t show up on Instagram, feel mentally and emotionally up to speed after a full day of sunshine and a full night sleep – they are gaining a boat-load of lived experience being tech free. These campers are then equipped to make an informed decision about their post camp tech use. They know what the alternatives are and are free to choose them.
At MTC we are realistic. We know technology brings with a raft of benefits, and that it is not going away. We also know it is problematic, as is any powerful innovation, if not handled deliberately, intentionally, and with full knowledge of the pros and cons. We see our role as providing one of the few remaining spaces in which campers and staff can gain the experience they need to make the choice that works best for them.