I wasn’t sure what to expect when I joined Clubhouse.
The new “drop-in audio app” has popped up a few times in my own Facebook Group and with friends and colleagues. It hasn’t really gone mainstream yet — I mentioned it to a few friends and someone thought I was talking about the Disney brand.
That might change soon. At last count, about 600,000 people have signed up and interest seems to be gaining momentum.
The idea reminds me of Marco Polo. Once you register for the invite-only iPhone app, you can then join an audio conference. Groups of people chat, with a few moderators. To speak, you raise your hand and wait for an invite. No video, no text chat — it’s just audio for now. Also, no Android, no browser windows, and no desktop version.
Clubhouse obviously scanned my Twitter profile to see that I’m writing a book (or at least guessed correctly), and within minutes I was listening to experts talk about new authors starting landing pages and email newsletters.
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Since social media runs in milliseconds, I then posted on my Twitter feed asking if people would follow me, and a few dozen responded. Then a colleague started an audio chat about media relations and things blossomed from there. I’ve now listened to a half dozen chats. Later, I started my own “room” with PR reps and a co-host and talked about story ideas. It was interactive, fun, and rewarding. E-commerce expert Akemi Sue Fisher told me she grew her following to 23,000 people in 23 days. Entrepreneur Alexa Carlin has attracted 3,000 people to her room in only a week.
The app is a bit of a trifecta, in my opinion.
First, it’s brand new. I first heard about it way back in May when they only had a few thousand users, but now that it’s catching on with the populace, the conferences are well-attended and worth the time. Second, we need new ways to network and connect. You can see icons for everyone attending the conference, follow them, and interact even during the conference. Third, it’s all about seeking advice. Most of us are still in a weird state of workplace evolution, heading toward long-term remote work at home. New apps pull us out of our dull routine. Networking is also a huge need.
The fact that you can learn something new is also helpful. Clubhouse is like an interactive podcast or maybe a call-in radio show. Like the Marco Polo app I mentioned earlier, there is a paradigm shift to networking in the digital realm.
I have a new term for that: passive interaction.
What it means is that, since many of us are busy living asynchronous lives in remote offices, the rise of passive interaction means we can still interact, but only when we really want to and only when we have time. I was able to join a few audio conferences without registering, clicking a link without even asking to join. I could drop out of the chat, so I was a passive listener — and yet it is not a webinar. I could have also chimed in and interacted (by raising my hand) in my own timeframe.
This immediacy (everything is live) and passivity (I can just listen and not interact) is a good match for remote work because we’re already not adhering to normal schedules. Sometimes it feels like I’m in a parked car and driving in the fast lane at the same time. I’m parked because I can step away from my computer and walk the dog, grab coffee, or even leave my house. Yet these digital inputs and constant signaling arrive almost every minute of the day.
Experts say the human brain is not meant to handle that many inputs. Cal Newport in particular has noted how the brain is wired to be social and interconnected, but also to focus on things intently. We’re not chipmunks. With apps like Clubhouse that promote passive interaction, it feels like you have your hand on the pause button at all times. (Zoom fatigue occurs when we can’t hit pause, or at least we feel dumb when we do.) We can be social, or we can be passive, or we can drop out entirely.
Will the app continue to attract the masses? I’m not sure.
Social media expert Kristen Ruby from Ruby Media Group told me she has attended conferences where hosts prioritized people who had high follower counts and showed bias. “The barrier to entry to moderate a room is significantly lower than the regular conference circuit,” she explained. “This means that people are potentially responsible for moderating large groups of people when in actuality they may have zero formal moderator training.”
I did find a few conferences where the “talking heads” kept talking on and on. I wondered if the app is meant for extroverts and not always the sharp exchange of ideas. For every room that seemed helpful and interactive there was a room where I felt like I was merely listening to other people chat. (Clubhouse does not provide contact information for their app or a media rep to ask about these issues; if they do, I’ll add comments as needed.)
Since I’m late to the Clubhouse party, I need to spend more time poking around. Anyone know of a good audio conference for people who like books, disc golf, and social media? I’m going to be looking for all of those soon.