As smartphones get smarter, people put them down less and less, and that can be a problem. A 2014 University of Hong Kong study estimated about 6 percent of the world’s population, over 400 million people, are actually addicted to their devices. But there are places helping people who just can’t unplug, like this one on a secluded farm outside Seattle. This is a detox farm for people addicted to their iPhones, gaming and the internet. Patients are fully disconnected from the outside world for months, no internet and no cell phones. Nineteen-year-old Thomas has been here for almost a month. His issue is gaming. “I play a lot of shooters, but I also actually played for my colleges, one of my colleges’s e-Sports teams, so...” When he started feeling depressed, his parents took him to this program called reSTART. It’s not cheap and costs over five hundred dollars a day, but for many, it’s worth it. Life here is strict, bedtimes are enforced, and patients have jobs on the farm.They work out, clean and cook. Then patients come to Seattle where they relearn how to live a balanced life and regain lost communication skills. “A lot of people go online because they have friends there, and they feel like they get their social needs met online, in those, in those online communities.”
reSTART has 10 themed rooms where patients can tune out, lounge, paint or play with Legos. Mobile internet use is strictly forbidden. Patients can use phones only to make calls or texts. There are laptops in the center, but their use is limited to two hours a day. Two years ago, Alex spent at least ten hours a day in front of his computer. “Video games are the devil, absolutely the devil, don’t play them, more of a joke for me, but regulation, taking a look at how much tech you should have in your life.” Alex finished the two-year long rehabilitation course, since then he hasn’t played any video games and only uses his cell phone when absolutely necessary.
reSTART was founded in 2009 and has helped over 400 people overcome Internet addiction. Yet chief clinical director Hilarie Cash says the problem is growing. “Technology by design is actually very addictive, the people who build the apps, and make the video games are quite purposeful.” But no matter how compelling the internet can be, places like reSTART are teaching the value of being a part of the real world.