Julia Test, a 28-year-old freelance photographer, can’t stop checking Facebook. Her last relationship failed partly because she and her ex kept fighting over texts instead of talking things out in person. “It wasn’t a long-distance relationship or anything,” she says. “It’s just easier to say something mean in a text than watching someone’s face when you say it.” Jen McDowell, a director of entertainment at the travel company Olivia, says her bosses have told her she’s too tethered to her job. “I never took vacation,” she says. “Finally, they came to me and said, ‘We’ll have legal problems if you don’t take at least three days off. Please leave.’ ” A woman named Monika, who says only that she works for “a very large company in Redmond, Wash.,” also never takes vacation. Unfortunately for her, her bosses are fine with that.
This isn’t a group therapy session. It’s Digital Detox, a three-day retreat at Shambhalah Ranch in Northern California for people who feel addicted to their gadgets. For 72 hours, the 11 participants, who’ve paid from $595 for a twin bed to $1,400 for a suite, eat vegan food, practice yoga, swim in a nearby creek, take long walks in the woods, and keep a journal about being offline. (Typewriters are available for anyone not used to longhand.) The ranch is two-and-a-half hours north of San Francisco, so most guests come from the Bay Area, although a few have flown in from Seattle and New York. They’re here for a variety of reasons—bad breakups, career troubles—but there’s one thing everyone has in common: They’re driven to distraction by the Internet.