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Welcome to the club(house)

My World's on Fire
Welcome to the club(house)
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #37 • View online

Thanks for reading my World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, I hope you’ll subscribe!
This week, I spent hours in the world of Clubhouse, the invite-only audio-only app that earned the adjective “buzzy” this year after a few high-profileappearances drew millions to join. The app itself pretty much facilitates conference calls or “rooms,” but with a social-media twist, allowing you to follow friends, influencers, topics, and clubs. I’ve seen it described as a sort of live, interactive podcast or, my favorite, “What if SXSW, but an app?” – a nod to its Silicon Valley-heavy userbase.
But none of that really sums up what users have been able to do with this space, as I discovered when I logged on Sunday, February 21 and found myself in a modern telethon to raise funds for Texas.
“The news may forget about us, but Clubhouse won’t,” promised one of the room organizers, Denise Hamilton.
Having previously written about the complicated relationship between disaster survivors and social media, I was fascinated to see how this new platform was mobilizing around a crisis. I spent the week following the “Clubhouse Loves Texas” events, as well as speaking with organizers, experts, and beneficiaries about the initiative, which ultimately raised $140,000+. As I wrote for OneZero:
“The success of this grassroots effort reflects the platform’s promise for galvanizing communities, a trait that holds particular power in times of crisis. But, as other social networks have previously proven, it can be a double-edged sword.”
I hope you’ll read the article, which engages more with the unique potential and serious issues the app presents, but I also wanted to use this newsletter to expand on some of the interviews I had to shorten in the piece. I’ve talked before about using this as a sort of “reporter’s notebook,” and that’s really what this is – a peek into my notes. Read on for some quotes, statistics, and other bits that I would have loved to include in a world without word counts or deadlines.
A screenshot of the #CHLOVESTX kickoff event
A screenshot of the #CHLOVESTX kickoff event
On the appeal of Clubhouse
For those unfamiliar with the app or confused by its recent surge in popularity, Kat Cole offered an explanation of why she finds it so valuable. Cole is a former business executive and was featured in today’s New York Times article about “the era of audio creators.” When I spoke with her last Friday, she described Clubhouse like this:
“It’s not YouTube, it’s not Instagram, you don’t have to do your hair, you don’t have to – you know, you don’t even have to be engaged the whole time. If you want to speak, then you can speak when you want, and you can leave. It doesn’t look weird, it doesn’t feel weird. So just the ease of use, the flexibility, and the willingness of the community to connect and support and understand.”
The continuing need in Texas, in numbers
One of the beneficiaries of the Clubhouse Loves Texas fundraiser was the Houston Food Bank, which, as annual giving manager Jessica Dominguez explained to me, was already working overtime before the February storm:
“This is one disaster on top of another. We’re still very much seeing that there’s an increased need caused by the pandemic. So when you have one disaster on top of another, you have people struggling even more than before. There was already people who still are out of work and still facing hunger at increased levels of where we were a year ago. To just kind of put into perspective the distribution that we’re doing now and in our current disaster response – pre-COVID, we were distributing on average about 400 to 500 pounds a day. After COVID hit, and after the height of it at the beginning, we were averaging around 800 pounds a day in response to COVID. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve actually been distributing a million pounds or more a day.”
And, as a reminder, it’s notonly Texas.
Why one disaster expert is encouraging her colleagues to join Clubhouse
I also spoke with Gabriele Almon for the article, who worked in humanitarian aid emergency response and homeland security for a decade, including serving on the FEMA National Advisory Council. Now, she runs a business helping creatives tell stories about crises. Almon happened to be on Clubhouse as the fundraiser was organized, which, coupled with her experience in this sector, gave her a really interesting perspective on it.
She told me she was struck to hear people in the room speaking about feeling forgotten, something she’s heard from survivors since the first disaster she responded to in the early 2000s. Listening to this familiar sentiment through new technology was both disappointing and a motivator, she said, to do something about it.
As the article describes in detail, Almon has concerns about Clubhouse, but she’s also optimistic about it, particularly when it comes to ways people in positions of power could use it during crises:
“One thing that I will be paying attention to is to see how people in government or how people at nonprofits respond in this space. How they engage people asking for help. On these calls the emotion was so raw, the feelings were so real, and the desperation was so palpable that I think it’s imperative for people who are responding to these kinds of crises to be on this platform in particular, and to put some real thought into how to let people know that they’re being heard, how to set proper expectations about what can be done, and to utilize the platform as a way to really ground what they’re doing. It’s always important to to be in tune with what people are really asking for and to get a sense of the pulse of how things are going, and this is a great way to do that.”
It seems like some in the field agree – this morning, I joined a Clubhouse room about the No Natural Disasters campaign, which brought together experts across multiple countries and specialties to discuss the topic.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the promise/problems of Clubhouse in this space, or on the intersection of social media and disasters overall. You know where to find me!
And, as always…
thank you for reading My World’s on Fire. You can reply to this newsletter to reach me or let me know if you liked it by hitting the little “heart.” This newsletter runs 100% on your support (okay, and lots of coffee), so if you’re in a place to donate, please know it’s very much appreciated.
It also means the world to me when you share it on social media like Dan Kessler did:
Dan Kessler
I love @colleenhagerty's posts. 💧 One key thing to remember: Access to clean water is taken for granted; your pipes can dry up EASILY so having a few days (or weeks!) of water is critical. Otherwise, you can't even flush your toilet 🚽 https://t.co/mp7dluj5VM
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
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