When the party hat comes off — My first week on Clubhouse

It’s been exactly a month now since I joined the ever-controversial app Clubhouse and it has definitely been what I’d imagine taking part in a social experiment feels like. I decided to detail my first seven days of my own personal experience after reading so many stories that portrayed the app in a negative light and I sought to capture the true essence of the space and its user base, despite the conspicuous party hat in the corner betraying my novice status which alerts users to be more patient with you (read on their best behavior).

At the time I eventually took the plunge and signed up, there were about 12,000 users on Clubhouse and after asking around I figured that this would be regarded as the late stage of so called ‘early adopters’ of the app. I waived the tradition of getting onboarded by way of a personalized Welcome Room in favor of figuring out the ropes day to day for a more authentic experience and finding my own rhythm.

What kept my intrigue was the novelty of feeling like I was part of building this new community and indeed the synchronicity of user growth and the ever-evolving user experience did often feel like I was part of a living, breathing organism.

One aspect that I must commend is the thought put into the structure of the rooms from the layout of stage and audience, to the moderator designation; and also the function of raising your hand to indicate when you want to speak and add to the conversation. I appreciate the equal encouragement of people who just want to listen as well as people who want to make an input.

I was also struck by how much more ‘human’ the spaces were than I had anticipated. I genuinely did not expect the quality and thoughtfulness of some of the conversations I have been privy to. I had the misguided notion that it would be an overbearingly Silicon Valley type investor/transaction based situation and that’s not to say that there aren’t opportunities for that sort of thing if that is indeed what you’re looking for. I experienced this in a variety of forms, from pitchathon rooms to spaces offering advisory to start up founders and investment decisions being made real time with follow up conversations on twitter (the official Clubhouse back-channel).

There have also been some rooms that have made such an impact on my life in this short period and changed my daily routine such as a guided mediation room that I make sure to seek out every Wednesday (noon EST) and the Virtual Co-Working room that has helped me form close bonds with the some of the most supportive people I’ve (n)ever met. Daily, I experience insights from people I wouldn’t have the access to usually, for example doctors specializing in infectious diseases and authorities on astrophysics. One truly unexpected element is how quickly I adapted to the ‘bi-coastal’ energy and how synchronized the interactions are with other professionals across the country, as well as the intersection of time zones up to and over 15 hours ahead.

As someone who had a radio show during university which instilled a fear of ‘dead air’ in me, Clubhouse allowed me to get over my fear of awkward silence — which sometimes happens after the conversation has been free flowing and abruptly comes to a stop after your input. The initially mortifying experience eventually becomes accepted as the way things happen sometimes, just as people pop in and out of rooms that you’re speaking in — think the feeling of “was it something I said” personified. I assumed there would be pressure to participate, but instead I found myself really enjoying the space as it allowed me to curate the experience I wanted.

The appeal of Clubhouse initially was that it sought to avoid the mistakes of its predecessors. There is a Townhall that takes place every Sunday hosted by the founders where all members are welcome to attend as Paul and Rohan address grievances aired and keep the community informed on the changes that are being adopted and what’s being implemented in the coming updates.

In spite of this, it would be disingenuous not to recognize that the controversy surrounding the app isn’t entirely without reason. I have been in (and just as quickly taken myself out) of rooms where people are actively making misogynistic, classist, racist and anti-Semitic comments. What I would counter, however, is that these things happen on every single social media platform.

For me the disappointment lies in Clubhouse themselves making the claims that they would be different and are striving for the intolerance of such behaviors to be one of their defining qualities. Why then does it seem they are continuously falling below the mark of doing the ‘right thing’?

There are also certain privacy concerns that users continue to raise. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with having to authorize access to my contact book in order to receive and send out invitations. Even when giving out these invitations, I’ve been hesitant as there is the unspoken responsibility of being tied to whoever you nominated’s future actions. Take for example when a controversial artist recently joined the app, I immediately passed judgement on the person that invited him in the first place as their name and profile was linked on his page.

At the time of writing there are now over 20,000 users on the Clubhouse app and growing. The dynamics are bound to change and already I’m seeing more and more discussions from active users happening off the app, breaking the first unofficial rule of Clubhouse — you don’t talk about Clubhouse.

Personally, I welcome this change. If more everyday people speak about their experiences and not just commentary from journalists (the majority I know of that have aired their misgivings have been so far treated as pariahs) perhaps this will fuel the changes in the right direction, or will have the adverse effect of more users dropping the app in retaliation. I intend to continue using Clubhouse for the time being while also holding them accountable, but all grace periods do eventually come to an end.

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