Offline play

Once upon a time, I went to high school. One day, while aimlessly walking the hallways, an older gentleman, a substitute teacher, asked me if I wanted to learn how to play Sudoku. Say what now? But I obliged. I had nothing better to do, and it was the polite thing to do.

I haven’t stopped playing Sudoku ever since.

Before apps became ubiquitous, I scrounged for Sudoku in newsletters and magazines, then almost exclusively played it on the Sudoku app on my phone. Recently, I found a physical Sudoku set at our local thrift store for $2.97. I prayed it had all the pieces inside as I paid for it, and brought it home.

My prayer was answered.

A useful hack I discovered on my quest to spend less time online was turning digital activities I enjoy into offline ones.

Back in 2020, I switched from an online diary to a physical notebook. By then, I have been journaling almost daily for six years. It was a habit deeply ingrained in my daily routine, but the change from typing on a computer to writing in a notebook was almost effortless. I bought the cheapest notebook I could find from the dollar store, in case I changed my mind, but almost a year and some change later, I haven’t looked back. Most days, usually in the morning, I spend an hour or so writing in my journal. That’s an hour or so of my day spent away from the computer.

Most would argue against paper planners, but I exclusively use a notebook planner. The trick is to opt-out of the busyness Olympics, and simplify your schedule: Sit still instead. I used the bullet journaling method for the longest time, but now I use a simple yearly planner to plan my days. I get a few moments here and there unplugged as I plan my week and cross off my past events. It adds up.

Reading is another activity that has been converted to the digital space. I don’t mind reading an e-book, but I prefer reading a physical book: holding it, turning the pages, underlining and highlighting, scribbling notes on the margins, losing a bookmark. I cannot replicate that experience with a digital reader. I try to read for an hour or so every day, an hour spent offline.

Another activity I try to keep offline is cooking. I used to follow online recipes to a T, but once you grasp the basics of what makes for a good recipe, it’s easy to freestyle a decent meal. Even if I use a recipe, I try to quickly scan the ingredients and instruction, then be alone with my senses in the kitchen, using smell, taste, texture to figure it out. Less time spent trying to prevent the screen from locking, creating a greasy mess on my computer, and dealing with a burnt sauce while distracted by a “quick glance” at an article.

Once upon a time, people lived just fine without the internet.

They worked, played, slept, and did everything else in between without the aid of devices, apps, and the world wide web. While our digital tools make things more convenient, that doesn’t mean things still can’t be done without.

Sure, it requires more effort to purchase another notebook, a yearly planner, pens, highlighters, find storage for the notebooks that pile up year after year, but the time spent offline is more valuable than the convenience the internet and digital devices provide.

Plus, my cooking skill is getting better.

Until next time,

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  1. Nance Carney Avatar
    Nance Carney

    I really enjoyed this post, and it came out soon after I put the book, “100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet” on hold at my library.
    There was a good NPR LifeKit episode about life pre-Internet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brad Borland Avatar
      Brad Borland

      Thanks for these resources! I’ll be checking them out.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Mehret Biruk Avatar
      Mehret Biruk

      This is great, thanks for sharing!


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