Dutch digital detoxers unplug en masse. Will the world follow?

May 31, 2024 | News

The Offline Club members swap their phones for books, board games and tranquillity. Now, the concept could go global

‘Turn it off, tune it out and drop in.’ Customers at a Dutch digital detox café pay for the privilege of leaving phones at the front door. The Offline Club is a digital detox cafe that began in Amsterdam. It offers a place of calm and respite away from the constant digital hustle of the life lived through slick black glass.

It encourages quiet moments of introspection instead of vapid doomscrolling and encourages spontaneous conversation with strangers rather than endless keyboard arguments hammered 280 characters at a.

The idea is to replace recharging a device with replenishing your soul for a few hours, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The club, which was aided by social media, has spread to several cities in the Netherlands and is now ready for an international launch.

Ilya Kneppelhout, co-founder of the company, says that “people love it. They tell us it’s exactly what they have been waiting for and they can’t imagine it didn’t already exist.” “We had a girl with anxiety and stress tell us that she hadn’t felt at peace with herself for a year and half.”

The concept was born out of the ‘offline retreat’ retreats Kneppelhout and his friends Valentijn Klok, Jordy Van Bennekom set up. The trio opened the first phone-free hangout at Amsterdam’s Cafe Brecht this February, and were surprised to see 125,000 new Instagram users in a single month.

It’s a unique experience. Where else can you read a book, or draw in a café with 30 other people? It’s quite unique

Customers alternate between time alone and time with others. Kneppelhout says that people don’t only pay to get rid their phones, but also to meet other people. “We live in a world that is increasingly isolated, where we are connected online but it’s difficult to meet people in the real world. This is an amazing experience. Where else can you sit in a café with 30 other people and read a novel or draw? It’s quite unique.”

He hopes that customers will develop lasting habits after their visits to the cafe. He says that the big tech companies and social media companies are playing with our minds and our attention. “I think this is bad: I think a counter-movement is really needed, and it’s happening.”

In the UK, counsellor Georgina Strumer, who has helped clients with phone addictions, points out a second benefit of a switched off society.

She says, “There is a certain danger in the idea that every word or picture we say and share will be captured forever.” “This feeling of being constantly photographed is a new phenomenon that has been brought about by the presence of these devices in our lives. Wouldn’t you like to feel secure knowing that it doesn’t really matter if you have a bad hairday or don’t like your outfit?


Images: Offline Club


The facts

 

  • 2022


    The Offline Club cofounders started organising ‘het lesest’ weekends (reading weekends) in which attendees would be offline for 2 days.

  • 12


    Students in the Netherlands aged between 12 and 18 are not allowed to use smartwatches, tablets, or mobile phones during school hours as of 1 January 2024.

  • 250


    The Offline Club recently hosted a ‘XL Digital Detox Hangout’ in a 400 year-old church in Amsterdam.

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