Towards a Bay Area Less Wrong Community

by LucasSloan2 min read18th Mar 201132 comments


The SF Bay AreaCommunity
Personal Blog

Follow up to: Less Wrong NYC

Tl;dr:  Two new regular weekly meetups in the Bay Area:  In the Berkeley Starbucks on Wednesdays at 7pm (host Lucas Sloan), and in Tortuga (in Mountain View) on Thursdays at 7pm (hosts Shannon Friedman and Divia Melwani).  New Google Group for the whole Bay Area, all welcome to join.

Hi everyone in the (San Fransisco) Bay Area.  I'm Lucas Sloan and I've been organizing LW meet ups in Berkeley for about 8 months now.  I think that we've accomplished great things in that time, the last week's had about 40 people show up, which is a number that was beyond my wildest dreams when I held my first meet up and 7 people showed up.  As good as things are, I've been spending a lot of time thinking how we can do even better in the future.  The main catalyst in my thinking has been the accounts I've been hearing over the last two months from people who've visited the New York Less Wrong group and the amazingly positive reactions people have had to their accomplishments.  Now that Cosmos has written a post describing what he sees as their successes, I think now is an excellent time to start a discussion about the future of the Bay Area Less Wrong group, and how to make it awesome.

The main thing that the New York group has that I want for the Bay Area group is a sense of being a close-knit community of like-minded friends.  At a Berkeley meet up we get into all sorts of very interesting conversations with our fellow rationalists, but I don't feel a personal connection with most of the people who come to meet-ups, even those people I've seen at many - I am friendly with everyone who comes to meet-ups, but I am not friends with everyone who comes.  I see two things that contribute to this problem (though I'm sure there are more) - size of meet-ups, and the frequency of meet ups.  The large size of meet ups makes it impossible to establish rapport with everyone, because there is no way to have a good conversation with 40 other people in 4 hours.  Even more insidious, the large size makes it hard to establish rapport with even a subset of the people who come to a meet up - the group of 40 splits into 10 groups of 4 and everyone keeps churning between conversations as their interest wanes and waxes.  The first meet up I held, with only 7 people, was socially fulfilling in a way that recent ones simply haven't been - everyone was participating in the same conversation, and everyone was getting to know everyone else.  As to the frequency of meet ups, it's hard to become friends with people you only interact with once a month - you can easily forget a person in a month, and the format encourages talking about high minded "rational" topics, not the personal small talk that forms the basis of friendship.

My (partial) solution to those two problems is one and the same - increase the number of meet ups.  Meeting weekly instead of monthly helps the frequency problem directly, but it should also help with the intimacy of the event - with more meet ups, there's less pressure to have to show up to this one.  I don't think that increasing the number of meet ups will automatically result in a sense of community, but it definitely seems like a good first step.  To this end, I am happy to announce that there will now be 2 weekly meet ups it the Bay Area, I will be hosting meet ups on Wednesdays at 7 pm at the usual Starbucks, to starting March 23.  Shannon Friedman and Divia Melwani will be hosting meet ups on Thursdays at 7 pm at Tortuga, starting March 24.  In time, I hope to differentiate the content of my meet-ups, but for the foreseeable future they will take the form of dinner get togethers.  I will continue to advertise an "Official" Meet Up one Saturday per month, and that would probably be the best time to invite friends and introduce new people to the group.  In the meantime, I've created a google group for the Bay Area community, everyone who is at all interested should join.

I don't want everyone to take my vision as gospel; I hope everyone will help generate ideas for improvement of the community, and any feedback at all is helpful.  Please talk about your reactions to meet ups, my plans, and your plans in the comments.  If you're interested in running a meeting, please speak up.  I want to thank Shannon and Divia for holding South Bay meetings, and everyone who has inspired me to run meet ups.  Everyone has to have a hand in this - communities are necessarily a group effort.