Live Offline in a Digital World: 10 Ideas From Harry Potter

Do you ever want to live offline? Depending on your age, you may or may not be able to remember a time before our lives existed primarily online—a time of days spent outside, nights spent watching TV without a phone or a laptop, and periods of fighting for the dial up. And while the digital age is amazing and not something I would want to eschew entirely, there is something appealing about living offline. The best way I know to describe it is tangibility. To live offline is to embrace a world that we can touch rather than one separated from us by a screen and the mysteries of technology.

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Christin is standing in a greenhouse, wearing jeans, a long cardigan, and a backpack, reaching out to touch a golden pothos plant. Tangibility is an important factor in learning to live offline.

how the weasleys live offline

There’s a scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire* that strikes me each time I read it. And it comes to my mind often when I’m thinking about what it means to live offline. The Weasleys have returned from the Quidditch World Cup and will soon be heading off to Hogwarts. Mr. Weasley is working late for the first time in years, and the rest of the family, Harry, and Hermione are spending a rainy evening together in the living room, discussing recent events.

“Why are they all sending Howlers?” asked Ginny, who was mending her copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi with Spellotape on the rug in front of the living room fire…

“If Dad hadn’t said anything, old Rita would have just said it was disgraceful that nobody from the Ministry had commented,” said Bill, who was playing chess with Ron.

Rain lashed against the living room window. Hermione was immersed in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4, copies of which Mrs. Weasley had bought for her, Harry, and Ron in Diagon Alley. Charlie was darning a fireproof balaclava. Harry was polishing his firebolt, the broomstick servicing kit Hermione had given him for his thirteenth birthday open at his feet. Fred and George were sitting in a far corner, quills out, talking in whispers, their heads bent over a piece of parchment.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling, Chapter 10

What strikes me about this scene is its contrast to the average evening in my own home or my family’s home when I visit.

  • Ginny is mending a book.
  • Ron and Bill are playing chess.
  • Hermione is reading.
  • Charlie is mending clothes.
  • Harry is polishing his broom.
  • Fred and George are writing.

Each member of the family is doing something tangible.

Even though they’re largely doing their own things, they’re present together in the same room. Most of them are participating in a group conversation even as they mend or play.

how our phones invade our days

Now, I’ll be the first to say that my family is great at conversation. There’s no shortage of laughter and both serious and silly chats when we’re all together! But there’s usually another presence looming over it all—our iPhones.

Think about a recent extended period of time that you spent with a group. How much of the night centered on something happening on your phone? Or how often did you find yourself spaced out, disengaged from what was happening off of it?

In the last few days, my husband and I ruminated over two frequent occurences in our household: the fact that we almost never watch a movie without simultaneously reading about the movie (or something else entirely) on our phones and the fact that we spend many evenings on opposite ends of the couch, occasionally reading out something from our phone.

How many conversations begin with, ” I saw this thing today…” “I was just reading on Reddit…” “A YouTuber I watch was talking about…”?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. I learn a lot of things online, including in the fascinating human lives I get to witness on YouTube! But, at the end of the day, I do find myself wondering… “What did I actually do with my day today?”

how wizards live offline

Looking at the Weasley family, and the wizarding world as a whole, the absence of technology is actually a pervasive presence, shaping much of what we know about it: writing with quills, ordering goods through Owl Post, finding what you need in the library, and traveling through fireplaces.

We take some things a bit for granted—of course Hermione is headed to the library again.

Other things distinctly create the feeling of a separate, magical world—hundreds of owls flocking in to deliver goodies and letters (themselves a victim of technology).

And still other things are humorous—the Weasleys trapped in the Dursleys’ fake fireplace because why would a fire need to be electric?

But it all works together to create a world we wish we could live in, sometimes without quite knowing why. It’s cliche to suggest that it’s because it represents “simpler times” (and really, there’s nothing simple about a teenage boy being nearly murdered every year). But there’s a perceptible physicality to their world that is largely missing in our own.

I even read once (many years ago now, I have no idea where), that the magic in Harry Potter is physical magic, as opposed to spiritual magic. From what I can gather, this means it’s magic that occurs through manipulating physical elements like matter and energy, whereas spiritual magic occurs through working with spiritual forces.

I don’t know anything about all that, but the wizards’ focus on the physical does seem evident to me. By the very nature of how they get along in the world—potentially by manipulating physical elements—they’re more in touch with them.

We get along in the world by manipulating physical elements too, of course; our phones and laptops and TVs are made of things like iron and copper. But most of us are so far removed from the process, and so ignorant of how it works, that the connection is lost on us.

“How come the Muggles don’t hear the bus? ” said Harry. “Them!” said Stan contemptuously. Don’ listen properly, do they? Don’ look properly either. Never notice nuffink, they don’.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling, Chapter 3

How to live offline in small ways

It’s almost unnecessary but still important to note at this point that living offline is near impossible and not really even desirable. Whether it’s for work or entertainment or just finding a place to grab takeaway, access to the internet is a brilliant thing!

But I think it’s safe to suggest that most of us could do with a little more offline life. So, instead of leaving you with a list of don’ts and removals (don’t use your phone after a certain time, remove social media apps, don’t use your phone at the dinner table), let’s instead imagine ourselves living like the Weasleys.

Maybe one evening a week or for an hour each day, let’s commit to trying to live offline in small, simple ways.

1. Learn to play a classic card game with a standard deck of cards.

If you’re on your own, learn a simple classic like solitaire or go all out with something like beleaguered castle. If you’re with others, try out bridge or rummy.

2. Try out a new board game or card game.

Want to go past a standard deck of cards? There are so many board games on the market that are guaranteed to make for a good night! Here are a few of my family’s favorites:

Mysterium: A bit like Clue but with a mystical twist! Attend a seance to help solve a murder through visions given to you by the ghost.

Azul: Build a mosaic in the most efficient way possible with this simple tile game.

Dutch Blitz: A fast-paced group card game for nights when you need to exert some energy! Just make sure you have a big, sturdy table.

Qwixx: A fast, strategic dice game for when you want something fun that won’t take the whole night. Also perfect for playing multiple times in a row.

3. (Finally) learn to play chess.

That finally is for me. I’ve been meaning to learn to play chess for many years but haven’t taken the time to do it. With more time on your hands, pull out the chess board and sharpen your brain.

4. Try out needlecraft.

There are so many different kinds of needlecraft available and so many ways of learning them! Whether you want to take up knitting or crochet or try something like embroidery or macrame, there’s nothing quite like making something with your own hands. Grab a beginner’s kit or check out a tutorial on YouTube and get going!

5. Dive into a fun read.

Reading, of course, has a whole host of benefits. Still, too few of us take advantage of this in our free time! Exercise your brain with a murder mystery, curl up with an old favorite, or broaden your mind with a memoir. If it’s good enough for Hermione…

6. Give sketching a try.

My husband, a graphic designer, wholeheartedly believes that anyone can learn to draw! If you believe it’s a skill to be learned and honed rather than an innate talent, you too can give yourself a creative outlet. Check out a book at your local library, find a fun class on Skillshare or YouTube, or see if there are any live classes in your area. You may find you have a new skillset soon!

7. Bake something tasty.

One of my personal favorites! While cooking is something I feel like I have to do to keep myself fed, baking is something I get to do. After all, baked treats aren’t a necessity for nourishment but a pleasure to be enjoyed. And with baking, I find I need to focus my attention on what I’m doing if I’m going to enjoy it in the end! That makes it perfect for unplugging for a while—and the rest of your offline evening will be even better with something to munch.

8. Write it out.

This is no surprise coming from a blogger and literacy advocate, I’m sure! Writing is such a fantastic way to spend your time, whether you’re writing in a journal, compiling your thoughts on a topic, or writing fiction. I do all three regularly! Writing in a journal has proven psychological benefits that are probably unsurprising to you. But even writing fiction could help you in perhaps unexpected ways.

9. Finish a jigsaw puzzle.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no good at puzzles. But there is something so satisfying about seeing your time lead to something completed and beautiful. Finishing a puzzle is something rewarding you can do alone or with others that is good your brain, too!

10. Do some crosswords, word finds, or sudokus.

Maybe you want something you can do solo that will still exercise your little grey cells, but you don’t want to deal with the space and time requirements of a jigsaw puzzle. Then grab yourself a crossword, word find, or sudoku book! Inexpensive and readily available, these solitary brain exercises are a wonderful way to shut off without actually shutting off. Far more engaging and beneficial than another night mindlessly scrolling to decompress!

Go forth and live offline

I hope you’ve found these ideas for spending some time offline helpful, and that you’ll go ahead and give one of them a try soon! You may find yourself a new hobby or skill that will stay with you for the rest of your life, a sense of psychological well-being you haven’t experienced in some time, or sharpened brain cells that prepare you to solve the latest grisly murder in your neighborhood or defeat the dark wizards in your life—or at least to figure out what’s for dinner and how to balance your budget.

Whatever benefits you experience, I’d love to hear about them! Leave a comment or join me on Substack! If you download the Substack app, you’ll find a chat conversation where we can talk about our favorite offline ways to live.

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