The Offline Club: Amsterdam’s viral digital detox hangout

Can you remember the last time you just hung out with a group of friends without the distraction of your smartphone?

Think about it, how often do you catch yourself casually chatting with a friend, and then all of a sudden, there’s an awkward silence and immediately you find yourself filling the space with a casual scroll through Instagram? I admit, I’ve been this friend. Tapping the screen to see if my phone is still alive or impulsively checking the time when my social battery has hit zero.

Lets face it, our smartphones have quickly become our reliable digital pals we often rely on to pacify us through our social life. They have their benefits yes, but most of us wish to go back to the days where socializing is all about connection, people and just hanging out reading books or doing something creative rather than the all too often, “What do you do? What do you watch? Hey, tell me you watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones!”

Yes, I may sound a little dramatic here, but between the latest pop culture drama, the next best show to stream and the snooze fest of career questions that often pop up way too early in an introduction nowadays, I, like many others, wish to go back to the days where two people reaching for the same fruit in the supermarket could be an excuse for a random but easy encounter.

The Offline Club

Over in Amsterdam, it seems like there’s a community of earthlings searching for exactly the same thing, connection without the internet. Enter the safe haven that is, The Offline Club – the ultimate hangout where unplugging and connecting with likeminded individuals is your only pass code. Making waves amongst young professionals, The Offline Club, founded by young three visionaries—Jordy Van Bennekom, Ilya Kneppelhout, and Valentijn Klok was created in February of this year, and believe it or not, the club has since become a viral sensation.

The Club has quickly become a refuge for people to disconnect from the online chaos and reconnect with the beauty of human interaction. The movement is nostalgic of a social club in the nineties, where come as you are meant exactly that. Attendees travel from allover the Netherlands to disconnect from their phones, read books, journal and simply just connect with others in a relaxed environment.

Credit: The Offline Club

How it all started

The idea originally goes back around two years ago, when Co founder Jordy Van Bennekom, went offline for four days by himself in the heart of Dutch nature. I spoke with founder Ilya Kneppelhout who told me, “I was in colleague at the time and was inspired to do the same thing. I came back super rested full of new creative ideas and inspiration. I read a lot of books, which I haven’t gotten to do in a long time. So I really had time to myself.”

“The offline life away from my phone was just so eye opening for me that I was like, more people need to experience this. So we started to organize leesweekends, which in Dutch is called the reading weekends. It’s an offline getaway. We specifically don’t call it a retreat, because we want it to be more accessible and less spiritual, and we’ve done that five times so far and it’s been going great, but we wanted to make more impact and expand our concept of the offline lifestyle. Instead of one full weekend, we wanted to take it to the cities and have people kind of build that offline routine in their daily lives so that it’s financially more accessible, and low key, and also in terms of time investment. So that’s how we came up with the offline club, to host short digital detox hangouts where people come together to spend time, meet with others and be surrounded by like minded people.”

With such a simple concept, the company’s viral success online caught even the founders by surprise. As people from around the world bombarded their instagram page with likes, DM’s and follows, I asked Ilya why he thought social media reacted so positively to their anti-digital social clubs. He said, “I think the primary reason is that the world is screaming for more authentic and meaningful connection with other people, but also with oneself. And next to that, I think people are becoming more aware that their phones are really negatively impacting their lives, and that they’re spending more time on their phones and behind screens than they want to – but they don’t know how to get away from them.”

“I think the offline club is giving them the opportunity to go back to the old days. But in a in ‘modern jackets’, as we say in Dutch, where we give them the opportunity to detach from screens and and unplug in a fun way.”

How it works

The Offline Clubs are usually ran in existing cafes which are rented out for the event, and the concept is simple. When you turn up to the club, your phone is collected at the door, and although giving up your phone is not a prerequisite to take part, interestingly, he says 95% of people who turn up are usually eager to give their phones up.

They then commence to host what they term, a ‘digital detox hangout’. Lasting about two and a half to three hours, guests get to alternate between time for themselves and time to connect. In this time, you can enjoy reading, journaling, knitting or being creative. “Then, we say, alright, now it’s time to connect, and that’s when people really start to share ideas and get to know each other and talk to strangers, and connect over things they have in common. As they are in a cafe, people can get food and drinks and enjoy the nice, calming, soothing background music.”

Credit: Phone collection, The Offline Club

With the shift towards working online permanently, post Covid, we are facing yet another epidemic nobody seems to talk about. Loneliness. The lack of face to face interaction disrupted by social media and our inability to communicate without the filter of a screen has intensified since the pandemic, and social clubs are helping to create an alternative environment to complete isolation. Social media has seen an 8% growth rate this year alone, and the scurry to social media channels to share distorted depictions of a perfect reality are at an all time high. I believe The Offline Club is a radical call to action, and a response to our need to go back to simpler times and I wont be surprised if more clubs like this start to pop up around the world.

For more information and updates on The Offline Club, follow their Instagram here.

Authors

  • Lisa Hanley

    Lisa Hanley is both the Founder and Editor of Ankha Azzura Magazine, a media platform that blends her passion in wellness, science, and holistic living. Having spent over a decade working in media, beginning with local radio and print and later transitioning to producing and luxury travel writing, Lisa established Ankha Global in 2022. She attended three universities in the UK to study Journalism and Media studies and currently resides in London with her partner.

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