Clubhouse Confession: I’m Starting to Like It Here

The only thing in hotter demand than a Clubhouse invite is a coronavirus vaccination

In this photo illustration, the message “Hey we’re still opening up but anyone can join with an invite from an existing user!” for Clubhouse’s waitlist is seen displayed on a smartphone screen
Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

If you’re prone to FOMO — that’s the Fear of Missing Out — there’s a new horror show in town.

The exclusive, invite-only social media app Clubhouse lets people gather in virtual rooms to talk in real time with real people about pretty much any subject you can think of — provided it’s on an iPhone. Launched less than a year ago, it was humming along mostly under the radar until the last month, when a couple of high-profile users hosted a couple of highly attended talks: for instance, Elon Musk chatting with Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev on February 1 about the GameStop maelstrom (Musk has since extended an invitation to Vladimir Putin, who is reportedly considering it.) Though it’s still in beta mode, by early February, Clubhouse hit 3.5 million global downloads with the company announcing it now has 10 million weekly users. And on February 8, the app got the ultimate public relations boost: China banned it.

Source: App Annie

Three million might sound like a lot of people, but the magic of Clubhouse is that it’s not for everybody. You have to be invited to join. Specifically, you have to be invited by someone who’s already a member and, even then, members are only allotted a certain number of invitations — so they guard them jealously. (By that I mean they hoard them so as to elicit jealousy in others.) I’ve seen people say things on Twitter like, “Stop asking me for Clubhouse invites because I don’t have any!” There’s even an underground market for invites, with listings on eBay going for as much as $125.

From the looks of things, the only thing in hotter demand right now than a Clubhouse invite is a coronavirus vaccination. And once you’re a Clubhouse insider, you can easily see why. In fact, you might even want to be in Clubhouse more than you want a vaccine. Sure, the vaccine is the one path out of the hellscape of the last year and the only thing that will allow you to begin to lead a normal life again. But does it let you hang out in a virtual room listening to a pseudo-Brad Pitt talk about climate change? Does it give you access to conversations about how powerhouse boss babes can access their inner badass and boost their branding strategies for $$$? Does it show how you can grow your brand and maximize your reach simply by adding “Billion Dollar Club” and a bunch of emojis onto any given subject? It totally works, by the way. Just try it:

Sleeping Twelve Hours A Night Billion Dollar Club 🛌 😴💤 $$$ 💵 🎉

Picking Up Dog Poop Billion Dollar Club 💩🐕 🚶 $$$ 💵 🎉

Complaining About Neighborhood Stuff on Nextdoor Billion Dollar Club $$$ 🚸🚧🕳️ 💵🎉

A hand holding up their phone with the Clubhouse app open. The user is in a virtual Clubhouse room called “PITCH — TV/Film/Media/Producer/Writer/” and there are various user profile icons displayed.
Photo: Christoph Dernbach/dpa/Getty Images

Still, one of my key takeaways from Clubhouse so far is that authenticity is super important, and “real” doesn’t necessarily mean authentic. Sometimes “real” is just a story we tell ourselves because we’re afraid of the unreal stories we don’t tell ourselves because they’re not real.

So here’s the real/unreal and untold story of my relationship to Clubhouse: It took me a month or so to get here, but I kind of enjoy it. Once you get past the sobering realization that everyone but you is an entrepreneur making bank, you realize there are actually fascinating conversations going on — if not all the time, then much of the time. There are, for instance, highly qualified scientists and medical experts talking about the coronavirus vaccine. There are very smart people talking about artificial intelligence. At any given time, there are, what seems to be, countless conversations going on about the inner political workings of the New York Times.

Flattered but terrified, I hit the “thanks, maybe later” button and immediately felt guilty, as if I’d turned down someone for a date.

But like I said, it can be a slow burn. The first week I was on Clubhouse, it was as if I’d installed an around-the-clock anxiety attack onto my iPhone. All the talk about branding strategies, the warnings to stay “laser-focused when you intro yourself,” and exuberant announcements along the lines of “e-commerce is my jam” made me want to lay down in a coffin and play Candy Crush for the rest of my obviously irrelevant life. Who knew I was such a clueless sloth? It’s not just that I don’t work hard enough. I clearly didn’t even understand what working means. Clearly, I’ve been doing it all wrong. Sitting at a desk and using my brain to accomplish various, discrete tasks. How démodé can you get?

It didn’t help that I got into the bad habit of making Clubhouse a kind of last stop after setting my alarm and turning in for bed. One night, bleary-eyed from a long day of working all wrong, I slid under the covers, tapped into Clubhouse, and noticed that a handful of people I found interesting were talking about something that seemed interesting, though I wasn’t sure what about. After a few minutes of listening and still having no idea what they were talking about, a notification pinged and asked if I wanted to “join the conversation.” Flattered but terrified, I hit the “thanks, maybe later” button and immediately felt guilty, as if I’d turned down someone for a date. (Not that turning down a date should induce guilt, as Clubhouse rooms about badass boss babes doing billion-dollar dating would tell you.)

Another night, while tuning into yet another conversation whose topic eluded me, something even more terrifying happened. One of the moderators said something to the effect of, “I see that Meghan Daum has joined us. I would love to hear any thoughts she might have on this.” Whaat??? Mind you, this was not a notification. It was said out loud, in a real voice by a real person. Again, flattery collided with horror. I’d been caught in the act and also caught wholly unprepared, the digital equivalent of talking in class and the teacher saying “Ms. Daum, did you have something you wanted to say?” Again, I hit “maybe later” and felt even more guilty, as if someone had proposed marriage to me in a public setting and I’d turned them down.

Clubhouse, as you may have gathered by now, is for people who think rather highly of themselves.

Slowly, though, I began to claw my way up the Clubhouse learning curve. I’ve started to realize that some of those folks in the billionaire clubs might actually be closer to thousandaires (like me!). I’ve learned not to take it to bed.

Clubhouse, as you may have gathered by now, is for people who think rather highly of themselves. You may have also gathered by now that I, as someone for whom an invitation to speak for a few seconds on a phone app is tantamount to receiving a marriage proposal on the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium, might occasionally think a little too highly of myself. (Rest assured, my self-aggrandizement is no match for my self-loathing.)

So even as I bask in the oxytocin high of my honeymoon period with Clubhouse, maybe I should interrogate my enthusiasm. Maybe I should examine the possibility that my willingness to scale Clubhouse’s precipitous learning curve is merely a testament to the low self-esteem that rests in the soul of everyone who claims to have high self-esteem.

Even better, I should start a Clubhouse room called, Turn Your Low Self-Esteem Into High Self-Esteem Billionaires Club $$$ 😞 😊🏆💯💵 🎉.

Are you in? I know you want to be.

Weekly blogger for Medium. Host of @TheUnspeakPod. Author of six books, including The Problem With Everything.