Life & Culture

Welcome to the Clubhouse

Michelle Stimler Morris had given up social media. But then she got an invitation to join Clubhouse...


Cropped shot of an attractive young woman standing outside on the street and using her cellphone to text

I first heard about Clubhouse from my husband. Well, not directly from him. I just heard him listening to what sounded like a very oddly specific radio show about the London property market.

For those of you who aren’t in on it yet, Clubhouse is the new live audio-based social media app. So far it’s invitation only. When my husband explained it to me, I thought he was barking mad. Why would I want to have a conversation with random people from around the world? I, obviously unlike him, have real friends that I can speak to. Besides, I don’t believe in social media.

I spent the next few weeks observing him and my mother becoming avid users (his use has worn off — hers hasn’t). I gathered that instead of a “feed” like other platforms there is a “hallway” with lots of rooms where people are talking about different topics. Like Facebook pages, there are clubs for different things where followers can meet for scheduled talks. “Experts” run talks and are “on stage”, while anyone can join the audience and put their “hand up” to join the stage to speak. Because all talks are live and not recorded, the transience that was once lost online, seems restored here. It was intriguing.

At the time, I was still in total lockdown with the kids home feeling very limited for intellectual conversation. I took the plunge. I set up my profile with nothing but these two words: Just listening. How naive I was. I have too many questions to keep shtum. Within days I was chatting away about meditating, movies and philosophy to people I probably won’t ever speak to again. Except for the ones I started following, which means that whenever they’re in a room, I can join. And, as I learned from a rabbi who accidentally followed me into a female energy circle, it works the other way round too.

Clubhouse felt like a temporary solution to the mundane domestic prison that lockdown trapped me in. It was a way to listen and talk to like-minded people speaking about subjects that tickled me, while simultaneously cleaning, cooking or going for a walk. My mind was in a parallel world and the moment was elevated.

All of this is made possible by AirPods of course. After I had my third child three years ago, our feeding sessions in the middle of the night became an enriching time I looked forward to, to brush up on the classics. In our little corner, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen pierced the quiet of the night, through these magical unconstrained buds in my ears.

The experts on Clubhouse aren’t quite that calibre but I suppose this is where introverts and extroverts diverge. The extroverts love to jump on the app to just shoot the schmooze with whoever’s online. The introverts are more directed, and will join a room or speak on stage only if they are compelled by the subject. I fall into the latter category.

My favourite aspect of Clubhouse is the clubs I’ve joined. They’re all so specifically what I’m interested in that even when there’s nothing stimulating in my hallway, I’m always bound to find an active room in the “upcoming events” section. ‘Shabbat Shalom’ is a thriving Jewish club which has brilliant talks on Jewish culture and philosophy. Who Wants to Write a Book? is another good find where I’ve scooped up some excellent practical advice (watch this space). I absolutely love Practically Parenting, although ironically it’s a struggle to make it to their room every Friday because I’m picking up the kids.

The time difference is problematic because everything is live, which is not a struggle on other platforms. I only get to catch the tail end of the LA lot if I wake up early in the morning. It works for Brits and Israelis though, because our gap is just hours.

Jews love meeting other Jews from another world. Jewish Geography is a game ingrained in our religion, and on Clubhouse people make rooms with that title, literally just to play it.

Last week there were disquieting reports about antisemitism on the platform, and a few rooms were closed down. But there are fewer trolls on this platform than other social networks. Because it’s invitation-only, people would need to work harder to create spam accounts. And because the app is still in beta, improvements are always being made to deal with these better.

I try to stay out of politics, but for those who do like it here you’ll find all kinds if people conversing about complex subjects in a civil way. If someone is speaking too rudely, they can get kicked off the stage, removed and blocked from that room by the moderators.

The algorithm is in its infancy so I do get some unwelcome room recommendations about Bitcoin and property. Yet occasionally I also stumble across something absolutely wonderful. Well-coded algorithms like on Facebook box us into isolated bubbles. They prevent us from developing other interests. What seems like a bad algorithm is good for us. Especially as Jews, where many of us can fall into the trap of engaging only with people who think exactly like us.

As on other platforms though, you still have those people who are constantly plugging products they sell, services they offer or themselves for an ego boost. When these people are in a room, I don’t stay.

After a few weeks of being on the app I’ve realised there’s a limit to how much I can take of it. Should I listen to people talk about meditation instead of actually meditating? Or take part in a chat about parenting instead of doing something for my kids? I’ve learnt to use it to plug the gaps in my life; after I’ve had the headspace to think, after I’ve grooved to Spotify, and when I’m not up for the intensity of Masterclass.

I don’t find it addictive, and that’s why I can engage with it in this distant healthy way. My notifications are off, so don’t try to ping me into a room with you. I’ll join the conversation when I want to. It’s been great in lockdown. But as the UK opens up and we have the freedom to experience life in full 3D, I’m not sure I’ll want to stay plugged in to virtual rooms. Even if it is with AirPods.

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