Is Clubhouse Just Exposure Therapy For People Who Hate Phone Calls?

By Dylan Hafer | March 4, 2021
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If you spend a lot of time on social media, you’ve probably noticed that in the last month, everyone has become obsessed with Clubhouse. Well, maybe not everyone, but you probably follow at least a few people who won’t shut up about the wonders of this incredible new app. It’s invite-only, audio-only, and for now, iPhone-only—and obviously, exclusivity automatically makes anything better. But what’s the deal with Clubhouse, really, and is it actually worth your attention? 

I first heard about Clubhouse back in September of 2020, but not because anyone I knew was actually using the platform. Instead, I learned of the fledgling app because of controversy surrounding a “room” where users were reportedly being freely anti-Semitic. Writing about the event, The Verge noted that the app offered the ability to report users for harassment, but lacked a robust moderation system required of a social network where people feel empowered to share harmful opinions.

Given that this was my first introduction to Clubhouse, I wasn’t terribly eager to secure myself an invite. I’m proud to have largely rooted out Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists from my social media feeds, and the last thing I need is to waste my time listening to internet randos having conversations that belong on Parler.

But fast-forward a few months to the beginning of 2021, and the conversation around Clubhouse had changed, at least from my vantage point. Suddenly, the up-and-coming app was a networking hotspot—the place to be for anyone who wanted to make connections and get ahead. Personally, I’ve always hated the idea of ~networking~, but I also hate being behind on social media trends, so when my coworker offered me an invite in late January, I accepted, and dipped my toes into the world of Clubhouse for the first time.

If you haven’t been properly briefed on how Clubhouse works, it’s sort of terrifying at first. The whole app is audio-based, and there’s nothing quite as unsettling as not being 100% sure that you’re on mute. When you first join, the app pings your contacts to join a designated welcoming room, and before I knew it, I was in a room with two of my colleagues, which I quickly exited because it stressed me out too much (it was 8am, and no one needs to hear my voice that early).

After the initial jitters wore off, I got the hang of it, and the app is pretty simple, really. You quickly learn that no one can hear you unless you ask to speak in a room. You follow your friends and people you find interesting, and rooms they join appear on your homescreen (cleverly called “the hallway”). You can dip in and out of rooms whenever you want, and even listen in the background as you do other things on your phone. In the few weeks since I really started using Clubhouse, I’ve even moderated in a few rooms, speaking about Bravo and pop culture, naturally. Overall, I feel like I’ve immersed myself in the Clubhouse experience, and I have some thoughts.

When Clubhouse is good, it can be really great. You never know who will pop up—from reality stars to A-list celebrities like Tiffany Haddish—and because the platform is so new, it lacks the PR-approved veneer that comes with more traditional interviews and appearances. There’s a tremendous range of content across rooms, from doctors talking about how vaccines work, to TV producers talking about how your favorite shows are made. You have to be in the right place at the right time, but if you get lucky, you might make a useful connection, or hear some tea on a new Bravo show, or get business advice that really helps you out.

But while I’ve enjoyed many different rooms on Clubhouse, and even met a few cool people (and by “met,” I mean we followed each other on Instagram), it’s really not as life-changing as the true devotees want you to believe. There’s no denying that some influential people are on Clubhouse, and the in-the-moment nature of the app can lead to some exciting conversations that you might not get elsewhere, but you have to sift through a lot of noise—literally—to find them. Clubhouse is fertile ground for social climbers and wannabe moguls, and for many of these people, you can hear the thirst through the phone when they’re brought on to speak. Pretty quickly, I’ve figured out whose rooms are worth joining, and I find myself ignoring 75% of the notifications I get from the app. Now that I think about it, I’m sure there’s a way to turn these notifications off, but god forbid I miss Jill Zarin spilling some dirt about something that happened behind the scenes on RHONY 10 years ago.

In my opinion, one of Clubhouse’s biggest pitfalls is its dedication to the audio-only concept. Rooms don’t have any kind of chat feature, which can make being an audience member kind of a boring experience, and from a moderating perspective, you get zero audience feedback. More importantly, it renders the app almost totally inaccessible to those who are deaf or hearing impaired. As closed captioning and other accessibility features have become more common across apps like Instagram and TikTok, Clubhouse feels like a step back in this department.

And a further complaint about the audio-only platform, which I’ve heard echoed in many conversations, is that Clubhouse has no direct message feature. In every other social media app, DMs are a key part of the user experience, but Clubhouse’s only comparable feature is private rooms. Still, I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation where I’d prefer talking to someone I just met rather than sending them a quick DM on Instagram. As a millennial who is pretty averse to phone calls, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

In one room I entered, I heard a discussion about a phenomenon called the “Clubhouse high”—when users of the app become addicted to it, spending hours hopping between rooms, thrilled with the possibility of what they could learn from the next one they stumble upon. For me, this phase lasted approximately two days, before I realized that listening to people recite their career accomplishments before attempting to say something profound about building a brand wasn’t actually that interesting. These days, I’m content as a casual user of Clubhouse, and I don’t see myself getting addicted any time soon.

Images: rafapress / Shutterstock.com

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