The first-ever Australia-wide mega-meetup took place on the second weekend of May 2014. LW clans from Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra met in a pristine country location in NSW for a weekend of rationality, outdoors, and fine company.
The event was a hit. This post is a general retrospective, another post aimed at future organisers will provide a thorough write-up of the planning, execution and suggested improvements.
If it's great to hang out with a few friends who share your interests, values, and thought processes - then it's sheer awesome to spend a whole weekend with two dozen kindred minds. The favourite pastime at the mega-meetup was conversation. Every spare moment was spent exchanging ideas and views. We brought up a large pile of boardgames and not a single game was played - too busy talking. I consider this evidence that we need to bring more rationalists together more often.
The Australian meetups had not had any prior contact to this event. Sydney1 and Canberra are new meetups for 2014. It was hoped that the mega-meetup would persuade the new meetups that the global LW community was worth being a part of. Melbourne has been invigorated since CFAR visited and was keen to share the spirit.
There is a twelve-hour drive or one-hour flight from Melbourne to Sydney. Canberra is a three hours drive from Sydney towards Melbourne. To justify travelling the distance, we made the mega-meetup a weekend retreat from Friday evening to Sunday evening.
A word of inspiration: it was six weeks from when we first started talking to the date of the camp. Only four weeks from idea to sold out with 25 attendees. LW organisers are chock-a-block with extra-agenty goodness and are a delight to work with. If you run a LW meetup and have neighbouring groups, get in touch. An enthusiastic team can make grand things happen pretty fast.
The structure of weekend was built around practical rationality sessions. Melbourne LW has accustomed its members to running sessions and we pulled on our knowledge. Most of the sessions were CFAR modules: alumni valued the revision and those who were new got stuck into the powerful techniques. The schedule for the mega-meetup can be seen here.
The campsite offered a range of outdoor activities. People voted on sailing and a high ropes course. The activities allowed attendees to bond outside of the intense rationality sessions. Other mega-meetup organisers might want to organise a fun excursions of another type.
We played the Credence Calibration Icebreaker Game in the opening session. It’s a merging of the credence game with the classic icebreaker ‘tell three statements about yourself, one of them a lie’.
Unconference/Lightning Talks were held by campfire. While roasting marshmallows, we listened to talks on cryonics, transfinite numbers, polyamory, quantified self, anthropic reasoning, the Price equation, and quite a few more.
European Sticker System
We adopted the European Sticker System, adorning our name tags with little indicators about ourselves. We ran out of ‘Hugs!’ stickers and a perceptible increase in the rate of hugs did occur. Uptake of Tell Culture stickers appeared universal, although harder to see in action. People cited my tell culture sticker before providing feedback about the meetup, indicating that I might not have received it otherwise. A Crocker’s Rules sticker was included for LW completeness but was cautioned against.
Like the ‘Hugs” sticker, ‘Ask Me Anything’ was adopted by most. One late night conversation became a circle of people pushing the limits of what they would normally ask each other:
“What is your kink (fetishes)?” “What have you done which has made you feel really morally bad?” “Given your intelligence, I am surprised by your career choice. Can you tell me about that?” “You belong to minority group X within the group here, I’m curious how that makes you feel.”
There was no discussion of whether another mega-meetup should happen: all involved assumed that obviously it would and we should just start planning now. More people, longer, more stickers. We might invite New Zealand.
Mega-meetups are awesome and we heartily recommend everyone have them. They don’t have to be weekend-long events, your local area meetups don’t have to be large, just bring them goddamn rationalists together.
1. Sydney existed in a previous incarnation two years ago, but started up again recently.