Let me preface this by saying the internet has always felt like an alternate universe to me. As a young teen growing up on MSN-messenger, the Dutch social networking website Hyves, and later Tumblr, the internet captured a kind of magical quality the outside world could never really possess. I would spend hours on my computer, cultivating an online universe in which I could be whoever I wanted. In the mid to late two-thousands there were no influencers, undisclosed ads, or photoshopped body positivity movements. The internet felt more genuine in a way. As I’ve grown up and the online social sphere has started to feel more hostile and draining, I have found myself feeling disenchanted by the internet. It just doesn’t seem to capture that mystical air of endless possibilities anymore. That, or I have simply grown old and bitter.
In an attempt to rekindle my love for the internet and social networking, I have gone on many late night pursuits to deep and enticing corners of the internet (more often than not after one too many glasses of wine). In hopes of feeling that spark again, to find something that could match the excitement I felt as a preteen browsing Avril Lavigne fan forums and reblogging questionable Twilight fanfiction on Tumblr (team Edward, definitely). These searches, clouded by the warmth of alcohol and a fuzzy blanket, had not yet been very successful, until I stumbled upon a strange YouTube video a few nights ago. The video is called: “POV: you go to a Slytherin party (VERY realistic; talking, background noise, 8D audio)” and has almost one and a half million views as of today. The video consists of a playlist of songs edited to sound like they’re played inside a great hall, alongside ambient crowd noise and voices belonging to Harry Potter characters discussing topics definitely not touched on in the books or movies, such as drugs and sex.
7Hz theta waves, formerly known as the ‘Hogwarts Express’
I think you can understand my initial confusion when I was met with a 46 minute video consisting of audio only, which has garnered well over a million views since it was posted in February of this year. However, I was intrigued. My first guess was that its purpose was probably to be played as background music for studying, or similar activities, in the same way I have listened to Yann Tiersen’s score for the movie Good Bye Lenin! on repeat while writing my thesis last year. When I navigated to the account that had posted the video to see what other content they put out, in search for some clarification, I was met with only three other video’s. One for a Gryffindor party, and another for a Ravenclaw party. The logical assumption then seems to be that the fourth video has to be the ambient audio of a Hufflepuff party, to conclude all four Hogwarts houses. But no, this fourth video is something quite different. The very first video this channel uploaded (in January of 2021) is titled: “SHIFTING TO HOGWARTS SUBLIMINAL // slowly falling in love with Draco Malfoy // 7Hz theta waves”. Now I am even more bewildered; shifting to Hogwarts? Falling in love with Draco Malfoy? This doesn’t sound like an ambient lo-fi track Harry Potter fans listen to through their headphones while doing homework, or something of the sort. I pour myself another glass of wine and play the video.
It’s more music, but this time with a very annoying hum running through it. These must be the 7Hz theta waves the title mentions, however it’s not clear to me what purpose they could possibly serve. The description reads: “A carefully created playlist taking you through the battle of Hogwarts, the emotional aftermath and slowly but surely once again feeling safe in his arms. (…) Enjoy and happy shifting!” This text is followed by affirmations such as “I am more than my physical body” and “I safely open the channel of connection and communication with my desired reality.”
The TikTok shifting community
This newfound information doesn’t make the purpose of these Harry Potter videos any clearer to me, so frustrated, I turn to Google. Here I find that ‘reality shifting’ has already entered mainstream media, and has been covered by sources such as; Vice, Metro and The Washinton Post, among many others. These articles describe that the phenomenon has originated on TikTok, where it quickly became wildly popular. The strange video’s I accidentally stumbled upon are used to help aid those who wish to shift to a different reality, in this case Hogwarts. When you are listening to the audio, you are supposed to imagine your desired reality while counting down, or running after a fictional character and jumping into said reality with them. The 7Hz theta waves mentioned before are supposed to help in this process. The ‘shifting community’ on TikTok is immense, and there, as well as on YouTube, countless teens share their experiences with shifting to alternate realities.
“Shifting is a very strange experience. It’s like an extremely vivid dream, yet it’s more real than any dream I’ve ever had. Before I plan on shifting I write myself a script in the notes app on my phone, in which I plan exactly what happens in the desired reality. This makes it easier to visualise exactly what I want to happen – so I might script that I want to go to Hogwarts and for Draco to be my boyfriend, or that he will flirt with me.”Helen from Ireland, 15
Escapism, teenage dissatisfaction and the internet
As someone with a very vivid imagination, I can understand the appeal of wanting to transport yourself to a different reality. People in their twenties and thirties, who used the internet when they were in their teens, can probably grasp the sense of community it brings as well. Thousands of people share their scripts, audio files and tips and tricks on how to shift. This phenomenon illustrates the strong desire many teenagers feel to escape their daily lives, which might not always be as pleasant, and to find community online. Especially in the past year, with the lockdowns due to coronavirus having a great impact on their mental health, it doesn’t seem so strange many teens would rather imagine themselves falling in love with Draco Malfoy in the halls of Hogwarts, than to be stuck in their bedrooms. Shifting seems akin to an advanced form of fanfiction, and doesn’t sound dangerous or all that different from what I used to get up to on the internet ten years ago. Every past generation of teenagers, and every generation to come, will probably be dissatisfied with their life in some aspect. Technological developments, such as new social platforms and new ways of creating content, just seem to change the ways in which they express these feelings.
Travis M. Andrews, “Inside ‘reality shifting,’ the trend where TikTokers claim they can enter the world of Harry Potter”, The Washington Post, 17 July 2021.
Jessica Lindsay, “What is reality shifting, and does the TikTok trend work?”, Metro, 19 June 2021.
Serena Smith, “What is ‘reality shifting’ and why is it taking over TikTok?”, i-D Vice, 20 June 2021.