Social media and video conferencing platforms like Zoom were a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping people work, learn and stay connected with others while isolating at home. While many people were content with a weekly virtual game night or coffee meet-up to help break up the monotony in quarantine, others discovered a new platform that emerged bringing people with common interests together, not through the written word, photos or a recorded video but through live voices. These audio chatrooms were more populated by people over 50 than members under 21.
According to a recent AARP report, the drop-in audio app Clubhouse is a real-time audio social network that has gained traction over the past year. The virtual social club offers a safe space for members to discuss a wide range of topics, including politics, sports and yes, ageing. But to become a member, you must be invited by a current member – an exclusivity that lends Clubhouse a certain cachet. The limited membership was initially designed to prevent the app from crashing in its early days, developers say.
Within the app, users must follow a code of conduct that prohibits any bullying, harassment, threats of violence, abuse or discrimination. To take the floor, members raise their virtual hand and the moderator or current speaker will give them their turn to speak. Those who do not follow the rules of conduct can be blocked and people who have been blocked several times will have a warning exclamation mark attached to their profile page.
Celebrities and leaders have been known to drop into Clubhouse but the real appeal of the app is sharing voices, thoughts and opinions with regular people in live time. The experience, because it cannot be carefully curated or edited like a post on Instagram or Facebook, is more authentic and people are responding positively to the experience.
At present private messages are not permitted between members who appear as circled pictures or initials within individual rooms. There is a weekly user orientation on Wednesday nights and new members can test the waters in spaces created for beginners to learn the app etiquette and how to participate.
Those who don’t know anyone already using the app can join the waitlist in the Apple App Store. A black market for invites cropped up when it was announced that Elon Musk would be speaking back in February, but it is not advisable to go through these channels as it could open you up to fraud and scammers. For now, you can access the app through your mobile device and see if anyone you know is already a member or join the waitlist.
Not to be left behind, Twitter is hard at work on its own audio app called Audio Spaces and Facebook did its first live test this past week of its Clubhouse clone called Live Audio Rooms. While you wait you can also check out the Swell app. It isn’t live but the platform uses short voice recordings, photos and links to connect people. Swell is also available through the App Store for your mobile device. Of course, podcasts have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and can be found on many platforms such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify. It might be worth a listen on a rainy day.