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Bay Area's Digital Detox helps techies unplug

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If you keep reaching for your smartphone and panic if it's gone, does it mean you're addicted? 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney has a look at Oakland's Digital Detox, a company that helps techies unplug. (KGO-TV )

How many times do you check your smartphone each day? If you're like most people, it's a lot! So how can you tell if you're addicted and need to unplug? There's now a movement called digital detox.

We found a Bay Area company devoted entirely to helping people disconnect and followed one tech worker who's giving up digital media for three whole months.

"It was just so easy to get to that almost drug-like state," said Eric Mackey.

Mackey couldn't stop himself, every few minutes he was checking his phone.

"Instagram all the time, the clickbait websites -- the Huffington Post, the Salon.coms, Buzzfeeds," he said.

Mackey stares at screens all day as a web designer at SAP. On top of that, he kept stopping to check social media.

"They do a really good job of sucking you in and keeping you in," he said.

Then one day it happened as he stared into his phone.

"I cognitively said the words, 'That feels warm,'" he said. "It was too close to what I had heard of heroin addiction. It scared me to death."

Mackey knew he needed to stop.

"Every time your phone buzzes, or beeps, or pings, your brain is literally releasing oxytocin, which is known as the cuddle hormone," said Brady Gill.

Gill is a director with Digital Detox in Oakland, which runs retreats and camps for adults, where all electronics are confiscated at the door.

"It can be scary," said Gill. "People sometimes feel anxiety, they feel restless."

Some feel symptoms of withdrawal.

"Campers are known to have phantom rings where their pockets are empty but they'll feel like their phone is ringing and you see people just reaching for their phone and nothing is there," said Gill.

But mostly it's euphoric. Campers make crafts, play games, jump in a lake, meditate under trees.

"When you put your phone away you can actually start daydreaming and thinking and exploring different ideas that you might have," Gill said.

"Camp hits you like a ton of bricks when you realize that everyone's just human," Mackey added.

Digital Detox held a singles event in San Francisco, no devices allowed. Guests played real board games and painted with real paint. They also typed the old fashioned way. Handwritten profiles fluttered on a real bulletin board. Some found it refreshing

One guest said, "To get a little bit out of, just out get into the physical realm more to look around and to appreciate things."

As long as it's temporary

"It's hard to keep in touch with people without your device," said another guest. "I mean, there are hundreds of people I have to keep in touch with."

Which brings us back to Mackey.

"I got off of Facebook and I'm not on Instagram," he said.

He's in his third month without digital media. He says he may never go back. Mackey is pursuing passions he'd long since forgotten.

"I've started woodworking again," he said.

He's building a loft for his apartment. Making a perfect cup of coffee. Sitting at a table he built in a kitchen with no Internet.

"Life is better without it, yeah," he said. "I don't miss it."

Prices for a three-day camp range from about $550 to $750 depending when you book.


  • Digital Addiction

  • Social Media Addiction

  • The Digital Detox

  • Camp Grounded

  • Related Topics:
    technologybusinesssmartphonesgadgetssocial mediafacebookinstagramtwitter7 On Your SideOakland
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