Come with me as I take you back in time, all the way back to last century, which also takes us all the way back to the last millennia. Interestingly, this was also only 14 years ago.
Recall if you can those ancient days of the last decade of the last century when most of us…were barely using the Internet. Sure we might have e-mailed, or surfed a bit in the late 90s on Netscape, but it wasn’t an all day every day affair. We also still hand landlines and wrote letters!
Back then we talked more of the digital divide, where some folks had adopted new technology, but others lagged behind. It was when the dot.com economy was being born, and rural areas were clamoring for DSL and cable modems instead of a clunky old dial up.
How quickly things have changed.
We’re so ensconced in technology now that it’s really hard to remember a time when most of us weren’t on the Internet all day, checking e-mail, doing business, ordering merchandise, booking tickets, Facebooking and Tweeting. In fact smart phones have been around for a much shorter period of time but how many of us even remember the rhythm of life before we had the entire Internet in our pockets, ready to snap photos and upload them for the world to see within 0.2 seconds of experiencing the event ourselves?
Well, as wonderful as technology has been for communications and businesses, we take it for granted that this is necessarily a good thing in all circumstances, feeling frustrated and disconnected when we’re even a few minutes away from a cell tower. For many of us, “checking the Internet” has become the first thing we do when we get back home.
This is the world that kids under 20 have grown up in. The Internet is as second nature to them as it is to us. But is that all good?
Internet safety is about more than online predators
For families and organizations — like schools and camps — our time and work with kids is made harder because of our society’s essentially unexamined relationship to Internet technology and communications.
Sure, we hold seminars on Internet safety, teaching our kids to practice cautious behaviors and to be aware of what an online predator might do. But there are far fewer discussions about how much technology is too much technology. In fact, the overwhelming view is that no amount of technology is too much technology, which puts the Internet world in our kids’ pockets all day, every day.
At camp, this all-pervasive Internet development over the last decade has put an added challenge in our laps (as it has for parents and schools), because our entire operation rests on the presumption that three to six weeks of “getting away from it all,” (and I mean really getting away) is essential to the healthy development of our girls on many levels.
While there are many kinds of high-tech and sophisticated camps today, the ones like Camp Alleghany, which operate on the traditional outdoors camp model, and on traditional activities such as rifle, archery, canoeing, tennis, swimming, and the arts, have stood the test of time. Several American camps like ours will soon be celebrating 100 year anniversaries. What works for those camps, and ours, is what hasn’t changed, rather than what has.
Yet even as we continue our focus on a values-based, traditional camp setting, the encroachment of technology has tried to worm its way into the camp world. Holding fast to our mission has been both a key to our continuing success, and an opportunity to broaden the conversation on the role of technology in kids lives.
Yes, you can go no-tech
During this rapid time of cultural change we’ve expanded the Camp Alleghany philosophy and mission to say in part,
Living under an honor system and in the safety of the wilderness away from the distractions of modern technology, the girls build new skills, lasting friendships, and solid self-confidence.
We truly believe in this, and craft each session, day, and activity to allow the girls to breathe deeply into the moment. We offer a setting where girls can encounter life and each other in a way that stands the test of time, where human contact is real, in person, identifiably meaningful and fun. IN this setting, each girl as an individual has the opportunity to test herself against these opportunities — to build strong interpersonal skills, to meet individual goals for self improvement in activities and athletics, and to work effectively in a group dynamic.
Yes, the Internet has its place in some schooling and research, and for ease of shopping and some fun. But there can be too much of a good thing.
Not only does constant access to the Internet not help girls with meaningful self development, it can actively get in the way of it, reinforcing some of the very things — overly idealized body images, emphasis on consumption, gossip, bullying, and superficiality — that sabotage a girls self esteem and leadership.
That’s why we think that, after 90 years of running a camp where the biggest outside pop cultural influence was music played at the annual Camp Greenbrier/Camp Alleghany Dance, that continuing in this direction is not only the right thing to do, but it’s more important than ever before given how much technology, media and communications rule kids’ lives today.
Please tune in to the blog on Thursday for part two of this conversation, where I’ll talk specifically about the limits of technology at our camp, and why it’s important for the girls, their parents, and our staff.
In the meantime, feel free to email me with your thoughts or to add comments to the field below.
–Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls