First Impressions of Clubhouse: It’s a Gas!

I co-hosted a chat last night and now I am hooked

Earlier this week I joined Clubhouse, the voice-based social media platform where “chatrooms” are an audio-based experience. I hope Clubhouse software engineers are building in robust accessibility features for deaf and hard of hearing participants, because this is a fun platform.

I didn’t really know what to expect before I logged on. I listened in on a few conversations, popping from room to room, and at first I felt like I was tapping into old style telephone party lines, where anyone who picked up the receiver could overhear everyone else’s conversation.

But a friend of mine gave me another metaphor for understanding what Clubhouse is and how it works: “It’s like being able to tune in to a whole of bunch of radio call-in shows happening at the same time, and you can call in on any show.”

In my experience, Clubhouse is a combination of both of those things: some rooms that are open are not taking callers, and one is simply eavesdropping on other people’s often very interesting conversations. Other rooms do take “callers” or questioners, and that is more like a radio call-in show.

Either way, there’s something delightful about hearing people’s voices from all over the world speaking to one another and laughing together. That aspect of Clubhouse puts the social back in social media in a way that is especially resonant for those of us who have missed gathering with others for face to face chats.

And, thank heaven, Clubhouse isn’t Zoom. There’s no pressure to be “on camera.” I can go swanning through my house with my headset on, doing dishes or folding laundry or just lolling about in one of my caftans, and I don’t have to worry about ring lights or camera angles or decluttering my background or anything. Instead, I am taken back to the days of that super-long, utterly-stretched-out cord on the one telephone in the house, the one on the kitchen wall, that gave my grandmother a wide arc for movement from the laundry room to the stovetop to the family room to the side door.

This does make me wonder about the age demographics of Clubhouse. As the parent of Millenial and Gen Z kids, I find that they and their cohort far prefer texting to talking…unless they are online gaming. Then it’s all headsets and hollered encouragements. My generation, Gen X, grew up talking on the phone instead of texting. So I’d be curious about the age of most Clubhouse users. If Facebook is the platform for Baby Boomers, maybe Clubhouse is the place for Gen X to find and enjoy its voice.

What’s wild is that I don’t listen to podcasts. I have friends who have excellent and highly regarded podcasts, who put a lot of work into interviewing and have high production values, and I never tune in. I know I’m missing out, but at the same time there’s something about the genre that doesn’t draw me as either a listener or a participant. I think it’s the lack of interactivity and the wish for spontaneity. I know that the conversation in a podcast is already over, and has probably been edited. A Clubhouse chat, on the other hand, is happening in real time and has all kinds of potential for serendipitous surprises — surprises for the speakers as much as for the listeners.

Last night I co-hosted a chat room along with my friend and colleague Claire Potter, Professor at the New School and editor of Public Seminar. We talked about the culture wars in higher education. We had a very small audience, but we had a fantastic time — a wide-ranging, low key, low stakes but highly rewarding conversation that covered a whole range of issues both of us are working on. It was a blast.

So I’m planning on hosting my own Clubhouse chat room on a semi-regular basis. Not sure yet what I’ll call it, not sure yet when I’ll host it, but I know I want sit in a comfy virtual room with a glass of wine and shoot the breeze with old friends and new.

If you’re on Clubhouse, you can follow me there at @LDBurnett. I truly am looking forward to fun conversations on serious topics, and serious conversations on fun topics. So hop on the party line, and I’ll see you — or hear you — there!

Writer, historian of American thought & culture. Editor of TheMudsill.substack.com, a little magazine publishing new & established authors. Book under contract.

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