Thinking Out Loud: A New Clubhouse

I’ve spent the past few days obsessed with the new chat room app called Clubhouse. Solely for iOS at the moment, and still in Beta testing, Clubhouse has taken the Twitterati by storm, specifically many working in or adjacent to Silicon Valley’s immense umbrella ecosystem of tech, finance, cryptocurrency, entrepreneurship, and media.

The app’s concept is simple: browse through a number of drop-in, live voice chats, listen and chime in when called upon, discover new ideas, meet interesting new people, and learn something. One of the simplest on-boarding processes I’ve ever seen with an app (besides the struggle to get an invite, shout-out to my brilliant former intern and future CEO Alison!) — you select your interests, follow some top influencers in your favorite space, and just start exploring.

I was initially tipped-off to the existence of this app by two things: my favorite angels and industry leaders on Twitter were praising the effectiveness of such a simple networking app and its ability to share ideas, and The New York Times was wringing it’s hands over it’s existence (written by reporter who currently has me blocked on Twitter for some reason, probably a good one). Here are some examples of the kind of articles that have covered the app. Notice a trend? Tech journalism, in my opinion, just doesn’t put its best foot forward, mostly because these writers are so concerned with anecdotal stories, and not with the possibilities an app like this can bring.

While some of the critiques against this app have some footing, most of the hit-pieces don’t take into account why someone like myself is so drawn to it. I can push a button on my phone, and immediately be in a conversation with brilliant thinkers, writers, philosophers and financiers such as Balaji Srinivasan, Eric Weinstein, Naval Ravikant, Keith Rabois, or Marc Andreessen.

This is where the magic of Clubhouse resides: its free-flow of spontaneous conversation and ideation. Thinking Out Loud. With Zoom, you have to tap into a webinar at a specific time, and everything is quite planned out and time-sensitive. With Clubhouse, these conversations are happening at any time of day, sometimes springing out of thin air, and the breadth of topics is unimaginable. For example, a couple nights ago I was part of a room with the topic “Why Do You Hate Math?” Eric Weinstein, in my opinion one of this generation’s greatest polymaths and philosophers (although he might disagree with that characterization), joined the room, alerting his Clubhouse fans to listen in. The room quickly doubled in size, and the moderators asked him to chime in, seeing the star power he apparently had.

Eric is a unique kind of polymath, and a true Renaissance man. After admittedly being a B- math student all throughout school, he ended up with a PhD in Mathematics from Harvard, even with no thesis advisor. That’s the kind of mind that is curious enough to jump in and out of conversations about anything, from the blues to Bitcoin. Unfortunately, some “Karen” in the room interrupted Eric several times, claiming that he hadn’t properly answered the question (even though half the room was there to hear him speak). He was promptly, unfortunately and kind of hilariously, kicked out of the room unceremoniously.

A quick note about virtual civility: as anyone who has looked at the comments section of a YouTube video, or anyone who checks out replies to celebrity/brand tweets might know, people can be quite nasty online. Clubhouse ensures that only verified accounts are allowed on the platform — a great first step to ensure digital civility. Your reputation and your name are intertwined here, and it seems that has cut out most of the trolls, and brought in the best-of-breed thinkers. But that’s not the only thing Clubhouse has going for it; there’s a new breed of digital manners that seems to be growing in this space as well.

I initially thought group phone calls would be a disaster — anyone who has tried to group FaceTime with family knows that technical glitches, and issues with usability, are common. In the Club’s rooms, I was shocked that there seems to be an unconsciously-agreed-upon wait time of 1–2 seconds between speakers to ensure no one is talking over each other. That tiny, respectful gesture of leaving white space between speakers was new, and comforting for a new user. I expect that digital civility will be discussed more, especially with the monumental rise of Zoom meetings and webinars over the past 9 months.

Finding content on Clubhouse was another process I was initially skeptical of. I’ve been reading some interesting things about the “End of Search” on media platforms. TikTok is a perfect example of this. Their “For You Page” and the algorithm that underlies it learns your interests so quickly that instead of searching for content, it just feeds it to you. Everyone’s bored of endlessly scrolling through the vast content libraries of Netflix or Hulu, and these discovery algorithms take that stress away. It’s efficacy in finding and feeding content to users is preternatural. Clubhouse, I believe, will expand upon this trend. I can discover new rooms, people, topics, and ideas — all without search. Simply scroll. The push notifications from the app also alert you to when someone you follow is in a room with a topic you care about, and I assume there’s some weighting between those two variables as to when you’re notified and how often. While search is never going away, its necessity is diminished the better these algorithms are.

Wrapping up, one of the reasons Rogan’s podcast can attract so many different minds, and such a historic online audience, is that he too holds this magic of spontaneous, free-flowing conversation — maybe not when interviewing conspiracy-theorist Alex Jones, but certainly with journalists like Nicholas Kristoff, historians like Niall Ferguson, polemicists like Douglass Murray, or philosophers like Sam Harris. The mere fact that this kind of content is so a) rare, and b) seemingly discouraged, in mainstream media speaks volumes.

Short addendum: as of writing this, a crowd of MAGA insurrectionists are violently breaking into the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C. An insane sentence to write, let alone watch live on TV. Immediately, conversations popped up on Clubhouse. Eric led a fruitful room about who in American media could help bring us together after such a crisis, and who wouldn’t be tainted by hatred and ire from the right or left. I can’t think of anyone that fits, except for perhaps Dolly Parton (not a joke). But the fact that within minutes of an event I could tune into important, timely conversations with thought- and industry-leaders about how to bounce back from this calamity was itself a calming force.

My generation is sick and tired of talking heads.

We’re exhausted of canned speeches parroting talking points, pretending to be profound political perceptions.

We’re looking for the next big way to connect with each other, learn more about our world, and find those around the globe who think like we do.

I think Clubhouse is the answer. Watch this space.

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