Towards a Bay Area Less Wrong Community

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.