Clubhouse: A Relationship Timeline

clubhouse: a relationship timeline
Credit: Alfred Sng

For you, my friend, the one who stares cluelessly, let me explain — Clubhouse is a new social media application. More specifically, ‘An invitation-only audio-chat iPhone app’. Valued at a measly 100 million in May 2020, it now stands at 1 billion. 

Elon the Musk, famed father of X Æ A-Xii, I must report, is an investor.

So much to unpack. The following is written as a love story in four phases. Enjoy.

Phase 1: Honeymoon

I tried not to enter with any preconceived notions. I was just curious. Apparently, you have to be nominated. “Ooo, so exclusive,” I thought. Mysterious stranger, come hither.

Accompanied by the jitters of early social anxiety, I first gained access on a cold winter night of 21st January 2021. Just kidding. I’m in Singapore in the sweltering equatorial heat but let’s just add this for dramatic value.

I was met with a barrage of random names; friends who I hadn’t connected with in a while and ‘topics’ of interest. Hmm… tech… okay… culture… okay… art… alright. I went forth, randomly clicking, eager to be “in” on conversations, to be at the forefront of “culture”, I guess? Where was I headed? This felt like an adventure.

“Only Week 1 of joining Clubhouse and I can talk to Ava Duvernay… on… on the PHONE???!!!”

Shortly after I followed some of these friends, I moved on to celebrities. Only Week 1 of joining Clubhouse and I can talk to Ava Duvernay… on… on the PHONE???!!! I was smitten.

As I proceeded to greet all my new celebrity friends with enthusiastic follows, none followed me back. That’s alright. They don’t know what’s good for them, yet. 

What this allowed me was an insight into new spaces. I was a silent participant in rooms titled ‘Women in Film/TV’ and ‘How to Pitch Your Movie in 1 Minute’. I made new Clubhouse friends from the global creative industries as we cross-pollinated the same rooms. It felt like being at the centre of something important. Something big. 

Was this real? Was I networking across borders in ways that felt organic? I couldn’t stop. The adrenaline was kicking in. The thrill was ON.

I tried avoiding a discussion with friends about this app, nervous to come off as pretentious and overbearing. You see, the thing about nascent social media is that it thrives from word-of-mouth, participatory culture, resting in the hands of each unique user and the subjectivities we bring.

Phase 2: Emotional Baggage

I should have seen it coming but love is blind. Perhaps it makes sense that a relatively new space like Clubhouse sits on a strategically perched throne of heroism in a mid-covid fandom, fueled by what seems to have been gatherings of techno-optimists, the kind to title a room ‘New Cryptocurrency Trends of 2021’. Anticipating my hesitation to this culture, providence sent me to a room titled, ‘ASS 🍑💦🍑💦🍆🍑 ’ where I became privy to a discussion of new NSFW magnitudes. Folks, what on earth is this app?

If Clubhouse were to remind us of quiet dark alley scenes, reminiscent of early social developments, then the white backdrop aesthetic stands in stark contrast. I want something more mysterious. This feels business-like.

Intriguingly, one person talking over the other doesn’t seem to be exclusive to alcohol-ridden parties and social gatherings. Apparently, we don’t need that. An application can help. A downloadable icono-world on the iPhone. Imagine that.

The team who made the app claim to be rapidly working on an android-version but alas, Clubhouse membership has a layer of exclusivity — The possession of a prized Apple product. And so, the cycle of Silicon Valley’s deeply entrenched elitism spins faster. It reminds me of a dog chasing after his own tail.  So then, when my friend with an Android says ‘Srush, what the hell is Clubhouse?’, I text back saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to never neglect you again.’ Once again, please read some of my writing with a grain of salt. The events described are loosely based on fact.

My point of phase 2 is to say that much of early social media reveals both virtues and vices. We are oftentimes confronted with what already exists in societal norms as it projects onto infrastructures that live in the virtual space.

Phase 3: Growing Pains 

Of course, a few vices were not about to deter me. I understood that there would be no good without the bad and without getting too philosophical, well, I knew what I had signed up for.

I was noticing myself spending far more time on there, hoping for some miraculous connection, hoping for some sense of community. As Twitter failed to elevate an organic sense of communion, Clubhouse was providing me with a feeling of togetherness, a live-action timely sensibility that was meant for ‘some’ groups. And I was part of it? 

I didn’t grow up revering social setups like country clubs and exclusive membership environments. I would even go so far as to say I carried disdain for the elite exclusivity of rich folk that bred a type of homogeneity.

You must have to have dressed, spoken and carried yourself in a way to feel worthy of this egregious title of ‘member’ of the clubs. Singapore, a city filled to the brim with such opportunities for gathering angered me more, often driving me to distance myself from friends who subscribed to these practices.

Surely, Clubhouse was more inviting right? You see, here’s the thing about the audio-only aspect of this app – other than a tiny profile picture, there’s a notable lack of an aesthetic curation of life as seen on Instagram. Surely, one could experiment under the safety of anonymity, protect their identities, and be part of something that doesn’t require a hyper-strategic visualization, right?

Undeterred, I continued to listen, eager not to miss out on a single gathering that aligned with my interest, conditioning my senses to hours and hours of unstructured radio-esque programming.

To compensate for this fatigue, I then proceeded to make clubhouse the soundtrack to my everyday life. Instead of paying attention, I found it more fruitful to leave it on as I carried about through my day.  

Phase three ended when my friend called to say, “I’m over it. I barely go on there now.”

Phase 4: Acceptance

It’s not like we’re breaking up. Relax. I just decided to pursue this love in moderation. As all forms of love should be. With boundaries.

“…I for one am excited to see how rooms titled ‘ASS 🍑💦🍑💦🍆🍑 ’ co-exist with ‘New Cryptocurrency Trends of 2021’.”

We now see each other maybe once a week or if called upon for a specific group chat. We prioritize our daily tasks over spending listless hours dreaming of the possibility for a brighter future. We know there is love, we know it is mutual.

Social media of any kind, as hard as it is to generalize, is ultimately an extension of what already exists. Some would dispute my claim, saying, well, technology has the ability to transcend elements of social norms, but I would disagree. Certainly, the infrastructure within a technological space does influence the parameters of possibility and design, but when examined closely, we might just be byproducts of our immediate and imagined realities, attempting to make sense of the troubled and ecstatic lives of strangers on the internet.

Still, there is something quite thrilling about the occasion of being invited into a Clubhouse room modelled like a speakeasy, one in which a bunch of random humans gather to play old Jazz music, turning their profile pictures to black and white.

Now see, that, I can get behind.

Unlike typical love stories, this one doesn’t end with a happily-ever-after, but rather, an endless abyss of question marks. Much is yet to be determined, but I for one am excited to see how rooms titled ‘ASS 🍑💦🍑💦🍆🍑 ’ co-exist with ‘New Cryptocurrency Trends of 2021’.