Can We Really Unplug?

There was recently an article about how camps can help kids unplug from their everyday lives. We read it (online, of course!) while noting the irony that so many of our camps are “electronics free” but we – the directors, assistant directors, and other senior staff members – cringe at the thought of being off-line for even an hour during the summer. While we tout the importance of campers unplugging, we start to sweat the moment our e-mail goes down.

jrfWhen did this happen? When did technology take over our camps? When did a handwritten list handed to a staff member make us appear out-of-date or disorganized? When did a photographer with a digital camera and Bunk1 access become a necessary position? We are in our late 30s and early 40s; while we are fairly computer savvy, we are still very much able to play the “I am older than cell phones” card with our staff. We remember calling home from a payphone and our parents exclaiming that we sounded “just like we’re next door!”

Don’t get us wrong – we aren’t scared of change; there are both good and bad things that come from more technology. We’re just confused. We recall a time, not so long ago, when camps were in their own bubbles. The “outside world” had little effect on our campers’ lives. Now, within five minutes of the recent Supreme Court decision on DOMA, we were celebrating and sharing the information with our campers and staff. And when a camper asked the details of how the Court voted, we didn’t hesitate to run to the internet to get him the information. And it’s not only about the outside world – it’s also about our camper families. We answer parents (including our own) about when photos will be up, what we’re eating for lunch, and why a child doesn’t appear to be wearing sunscreen. We e-mail parents en masse to keep them updated and we post to Facebook regularly (including from our cell phones when the power goes out!).

On the other hand, we expect that our campers will have no access to any of this technology. We require that all approved electronics are in airplane mode – and we are envious of those camps that have a “no screens” policy. But, at the same time, we wonder if sneaking in an iPad or liking a post on Facebook from a cabin a few steps from the office is really a punishable offense. How can we expect our campers to stop texting, updating, and chatting “cold turkey,” when they submit papers, complete college applications, and talk to their friends online the other eleven months of the year? And how can we, who pride ourselves on building and sustaining community, tell first year staff that they can’t be Facebook friends with kids one year younger than them who – just three days earlier – had been their best friend?

We used to say that we wouldn’t ask our staff or campers to do anything we wouldn’t do or haven’t done for ourselves. We are always happy to jump in to run a program, stay up late, wash dishes, or plunge a toilet. But ask us to give up our internet and we’re not sure we can agree. How could we know what’s going on in our world? How could we stay in touch with our families? How could we write blog posts like this? Hmmm – this has us stumped. Maybe we should check Google for some advice….

Posted on July 11, 2013

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