Towards a Bay Area Less Wrong Community

by LucasSloan4 min read18th Mar 201132 comments

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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.

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Thanks for stepping up!

Even if the format of each week's meeting is to be a dinner get-together at first, I still think it would help to give some of the weekly meetups a theme, as discussed in Cosmos's case study. The themes could be very simple and easy at first; maybe you could announce a non-high-minded conversation topic or icebreaker that will help people get to know each other.

I am a little concerned that weekly meetups which are utterly without topic might drop below many people's 'urgency' threshold and cause them to simply stop coming at all -- there's no particular need to come this week; I can always come next week, etc.

The first icebreaker/discussion topic that comes to mind is:

  • Tell your rationalist success story

Suggestion: a 'LW meetup resources' page in the Wiki, which would list rationalist games to play, rationalist discussion topics, etc.

Would you please create such a page?

If I hosted a meetup every Tuesday at 7 pm in San Francisco proper, would you come sometimes?

For me, it would depend on "where in the city". Specifically, locations which are a ridiculously easy walk from a BART station win, locations which are within a somewhat reasonable walk (10-15 minutes) are so-so and locations like north beach tend to produce near-infinite amounts of akrasia.

Yes, though it's hard to get out of work in time to get anywhere before 9 or so on weekdays.

If I hosted a meetup every Sunday at 5pm in the Mission, would you[1] come sometimes?

--

[1] General you.

Occasionally, sure.

Thank you whoever put the tl;dr on the top of my post, it really helps get the important content into easy view, and is much better at dispersing the data than what I had written down below.

again i must suggest adding a toastmasters element which gives the group some focus and IME makes for a really fun time.

I've been putting off joining a Toastmasters group for a while, but if anyone wants to get together to go to one I'd be up for that.

[-][anonymous]11y 2

Thanks Lucas, and Shannon and Divia! I expect that the world will be much more sane than it would have been without your efforts!

Lucas, I can host the Berkeley meetup at that Starbucks on those Wednesdays when you can't.

FYI: Rumor says the plan for the South Bay meetup is to experiment with a variety of icebreakers, rationality games, and other themed evenings & see what works.

Lucas, since you seem to be the focal point: Would you mind adding events on Facebook for those (Facebook doesn't have recurrence, you can try creating events for the next couple of times or something). I wouldn't mind creating them myself, but I want there to be one official Facebook event to which we can invite people.

Thursdays 7pm is a little tough for me. I have a chess game at my chess club 8pm every Thursday. Weekends work better for me.

Nonetheless, thanks for organizing.

bummer, Wednesday at 7 is my OChem lab. Regular schedule is smart, but if there's a special event that calls for deviation from the schedule, I'd love to hang out with LW. Any other day of the week and I'm there.