Paul Andersen: Our mountains can be a device recovery center

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

What’s the price of recovery from device addiction? A $33 bunk at a 10th Mountain Hut would be a great value. Same with a backpacking trip in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness or a permit to Conundrum Hot Springs.

There are still places on God’s green earth where there is no internet connection. These blank spots will be at a premium as more and more addicts of the so-called “digital drug” need escape from their cherished devices.

This addiction preys on the zombified masses who stare at screens, tap at screens, swipe at screens — people with ear attachments talking into space like schizophrenics, having conversations with invisible people. The virtual world has become so real that it’s destroying the lives of young people who need a cure for their digital dementia.

A recent article in Reuters News was a cry for help:

“When Danny Reagan was 13, he began exhibiting signs of what doctors usually associate with drug addiction. He became agitated, secretive and withdrew from friends. He had quit baseball and Boy Scouts, and he stopped doing homework and showering. But he was not using drugs. He was hooked on YouTube and video games to the point where he could do nothing else. As doctors would confirm, he was addicted to his electronics.”

Danny was admitted as a patient at the Lindner Center of Hope’s “Reboot” program, which provided an opportunity to “reboot” his life by kicking habitual device dependency mainlined through cellphones, laptops, etc.

Reuters described “Reboot” as “the first of its kind to admit only children who suffer from compulsion or obsession with their use of technology.”

Much of the world has gotten hooked on the silver spoon of device addiction. As any drug dealer knows, the first hit is free. Then you pay for subsequent hits with every log-in, prompt, link and social media hookup.

Distraction, dependency, hyper-stimulation, sedentary indolence, pornography, commercial overload, frivolity, vacuous entertainment, sexting, texting, gaming, eye strain from perpetual squinting — all plague device addicts.

Pumped up with sex and violence, the digital drug alters behaviors, which is the deep fear of psychologists studying the influences of devices, especially on easily seduced young people seeking an escape from depression and anxiety.

Compulsive internet behavior is rampant among young people who carry devices as a safety net for boredom and isolation, banking on a false sense of security. They have been taught that anything they want — anything worth having — is just a screen touch away, especially access to friends and family.

Sucked into the black hole of the digital drug, users are like Alice in Wonderland. They plummet into a world where fantasy becomes the ultimate allure. Real life is boring by comparison. The world of nature ceases to exist.

The internet, according to one of the Center for Hope counselors, provides self-medication by “hijacking the brain’s reward system by triggering the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals.”

“Reboot” patients spend 28 days at a suburban facility equipped with 16 bedrooms, classrooms, a gym and a dining hall. They undergo diagnostic tests, psychotherapy and hopefully learn to moderate their internet use.

The mountains of Colorado in Aspen’s backyard could become hallowed ground for device addicts who can kick the habit with skis and hiking shoes, with hut trips and nature immersion. The need grows stronger with every new app developed and designed to perpetuate the addiction.

The article warns, however, that device addiction is not like getting sober by going cold turkey. Device dependency is ubiquitous, and it’s up to each user to differentiate between utilitarian purpose and psychological dependency.

That fine line is being crossed routinely today by many millions of young users who feel they cannot leave their phones, who must feel it vibrating in a pocket, who reach for it instinctively for reassurance and gratification — the ultimate techno-pacifier.

Studies are underway to support the addiction premise or debunk it. Guess which side will be taken by cellphone providers, social media outlets, commercial underwriters and website producers?

Spurning the digital drug will require places that provide antidotes and alternatives, and the Elk Mountains could be one of them.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at