How Clubhouse will change society

My last post explained why Clubhouse is succeeding, but the more interesting question for me is how I think Clubhouse will change society. Obviously this is all highly speculative given that we are still in the early stages of audio social networks and it isn’t clear whether Clubhouse or one of its competitors is likely to capture the space. Nonetheless, I still think that we can see early indicators about how this is likely to play out.

For me, the biggest difference is the kind of dynamics that Clubhouse encourages. Twitter encourages contentious posts as conflict tends to draw the most attention. This has helped to polarise society as a whole. Now while Clubhouse certainly has its own share of drama, the dynamics of the app tend to lean away from this.

For a start, Twitter is about capturing a brief moment of someone’s attention so they fire off a reply, while Clubhouse is more about maintaining an audience’s attention over time. Making outrageous comments is less effective at this as while it may draw people into the room, people are likely to leave quickly rather than wait an indeterminate amount for a chance to speak on stage where they’re likely to just have people jump on them. This means that if you’re aiming for the biggest audience possible you’re going to want to make it welcoming to people with all different kinds of perspectives. Beyond this, if a room is too contentious, then people just speak over each other and no-one will want to listen into the conversation. This incentivises moderators to make an effort to cool the conversation and keep things orderly. And, in fact, they have the tools to do so as they can mute someone or kick them off stage if they are being disruptive.

But a large part of why Clubhouse is more collaborative is the human connection as well. When we fight someone on Facebook or Twitter, we almost don’t see them as a person. But when we engage someone in a conversation, we are much more likely to feel bad if we’re mean to them or treat them unfairly. Furthermore, people who come off as unreasonable as less likely to be invited up on stage again.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of groups talking on Clubhouse who wouldn’t necessarily be talking much in real life. For example, I saw a discussion between Chinese and Uyghurs; and another between Israelis and Palestinians. While these discussions were very contentious at times, the moderators were always able to reassert control and at least some of the participants seemed to be gaining a better understanding of each other’s perspectives. More generally, I’ve been able to listen into conversations from everyone including Nigerians, hardcore Republicans and African-American rappers. While some people will stay in their echo-chambers, Clubhouse is breaking down barriers.

Clubhouse will also be great for niche interests where there may not be the critical mass to run a discussion group or meetup locally. For example, I’m quite interested in Metamodernism, but I don’t know many people locally who would be interested in this topic. I am in a Facebook group, but verbal conversations are much better in terms of allowing an exchange of views and reaching a common understanding.

Clubhouse is helping to accelerate the decline of gatekeepers, along with podcasts, Substack and social media in general. There’s a sense in which Clubhouse achieves this to an even greater degree as it is much easier to get up on a stage than to try to build a following on Twitter or to be invited as a guest on a podcast. This greatly increases the diversity of ideas people are exposed to, but it also increases the reach of conspirarcy theorists.