Tweet Retreat: Learning to Log Off to Better Connect

I'm one of the zero and ones that has embraced this brave new big data-filled world. But to what end? Does all this activity -- this buzz -- really bring us closer together?
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Content from a delicious homemade dinner, I'm dozing by the fire in the cucina of our Umbrian community home, when I think about tweeting this 'moment' -- we're marketing our new eco-tourism retreat after all -- and then something stops me. I decide to call my wife instead.

We live in a hyper-connected world, where we are supposedly just a click away from some remote Fijian island, a beach in West Africa, or the hills of Umbria. We fan, follow, pin, hashtag, tweet, and text. It never stops. The feeds never say, 'sorry, that's it -- we can't be bothered.' I'm one of the zero and ones that has embraced this brave new big data-filled world. But to what end? Does all this activity -- this buzz -- really bring us closer together?

Shelly Turkle would likely say no. In her eye-opening book (not blog), Alone Together, she gets to the heart of "why we expect more from technology and less from each other." Turkle writes, "We're designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship." While we can rally, crowd-fund and promote the causes and start-ups in which we believe, in ways never once thought imagined, something is often missing. What would you say if all your twitter 'followers' suddenly showed up outside your house? -- 'The kettle's on, come on in.'

For the past seven years, I've been exploring the idea of "global citizenship," and harnessing the energy of social media to meaningfully connect with local communities and culture and inspire positive behavior change. With this concept in mind, the eco-tourism project that I co-founded, Tribewanted, has built three real-world sustainable communities. These communities operate in partnership with local teams and families, who have graciously welcomed our globe-trotting members into their lives. Tribewanted is more rustic-retreat than voluntourism.

We go online looking for an experience. But to make a lasting impact, the power of online connection must play out in the real world. We see Tribewanted as a potential model network of working communities and retreats that a large audience can learn from, be inspired by, and participate in. There is a rich history of sustainable communities, eco-villages and hippy hang-outs stretching back over hundreds of years. What makes this effort unique is the bringing together of a collection of such communities -- with shared values across different cultures at the same time.

There are many contemporary trends at play with the Tribewanted model: 1. The Rise of Ecotourism -- embracing the idea that many travelers are no longer content just hitting the top destinations to see the sites and the monuments, they want to experience natural destinations that provide benefit and empowerment to the locals. 2. Engagement -- most of us want to have a travel experience last more than a week, and want that experience to live on, long after we hit the rental car return. Tribewanted members can not only track their own personal progress financially towards a future stay at one of our locations, but can also follow the community they visited, the completion of a wind turbine project at said location, after their visit. 3. Give back -- Most of us have an innate desire to make a difference in the lives of others. The internet has brought the world closer by clicks. We have a primal need to explore, help, unite, rally... social media makes all of that possible. But those actions often feel hollow, if not supported by real world experience. 4. Unique Visits -- Lots of people have been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Your friends don't need to see pictures of you pretending to hold it up. They would likely be more interested in hearing how you lived alongside a small community for a short while and played a part -- however small -- in preserving a corner of our planet.

To date, our members have engaged with us on an island in Fiji, a beach in Sierra Leone, and beginning this month, in the hills of Umbria. Through these three established communities, we have started to explore what it really means to live more sustainably. It is not just for Ed Begley Jr, or the strange man mumbling to himself in the corner of Whole Foods. It can be fun and enriching. We recently kicked off our Umbria project, Monestevole, with a feast of culinary specialties, wine, music and outdoor activities taking advantage of the beautiful early spring weather.

We envisage the next 10 projects -- tribe-funded and selected by our members -- taking place in mega-cities as well as on remote beaches. Our dream is to connect multiple communities like these through our global network both online, but also in person by... yes, visiting.

What we need to turn our vision and experience into a reality that ripples around the world are more people like us, willing to spend a little time and money to jump through their screens into a community retreat reality. Twitter followers, you are welcome at Monestevole.

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