Australian Mega-Meetup 2014 Retrospective

post by Ruby · 2014-05-22T01:59:02.912Z · score: 21 (22 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 25 comments

Contents

  Overview
  Background
  Activities
  European Sticker System
  What's Next
  Credit
None
25 comments

Overview

The first-ever Australia-wide mega-meetup took place on the second weekend of May 2014. LW clans from Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra met in a pristine country location in NSW for a weekend of rationality, outdoors, and fine company.

The event was a hit. This post is a general retrospective, another post aimed at future organisers will provide a thorough write-up of the planning, execution and suggested improvements.

If it's great to hang out with a few friends who share your interests, values, and thought processes - then it's sheer awesome to spend a whole weekend with two dozen kindred minds. The favourite pastime at the mega-meetup was conversation. Every spare moment was spent exchanging ideas and views. We brought up a large pile of boardgames and not a single game was played - too busy talking. I consider this evidence that we need to bring more rationalists together more often.

 

Background

The Australian meetups had not had any prior contact to this event. Sydney1 and Canberra are new meetups for 2014. It was hoped that the mega-meetup would persuade the new meetups that the global LW community was worth being a part of. Melbourne has been invigorated since CFAR visited and was keen to share the spirit.

 

There is a twelve-hour drive or one-hour flight from Melbourne to Sydney. Canberra is a three hours drive from Sydney towards Melbourne. To justify travelling the distance, we made the mega-meetup a weekend retreat from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

 

A word of inspiration: it was six weeks from when we first started talking to the date of the camp. Only four weeks from idea to sold out with 25 attendees.  LW organisers are chock-a-block with extra-agenty goodness and are a delight to work with. If you run a LW meetup and have neighbouring groups, get in touch. An enthusiastic team can make grand things happen pretty fast.

 

Activities

The structure of weekend was built around practical rationality sessions. Melbourne LW has accustomed its members to running sessions and we pulled on our knowledge. Most of the  sessions were CFAR modules: alumni valued the revision and those who were new got stuck into the powerful techniques. The schedule for the mega-meetup can be seen here.

 

The campsite offered a range of outdoor activities. People voted on sailing and a high ropes course. The activities allowed attendees to bond outside of the intense rationality sessions. Other mega-meetup organisers might want to organise a fun excursions of another type.

 

We played the Credence Calibration Icebreaker Game  in the opening session. It’s a merging of the credence game with the classic icebreaker ‘tell three statements about yourself, one of them a lie’.

 

Unconference/Lightning Talks were held by campfire. While roasting marshmallows, we listened to talks on cryonics, transfinite numbers, polyamory, quantified self, anthropic reasoning, the Price equation, and quite a few more.

 

European Sticker System

We adopted the European Sticker System, adorning our name tags with little indicators about ourselves. We ran out of ‘Hugs!’ stickers and a perceptible increase in the rate of hugs did occur. Uptake of Tell Culture stickers appeared universal, although harder to see in action. People cited my tell culture sticker before providing feedback about the meetup, indicating that I might not have received it otherwise. A Crocker’s Rules sticker was included for LW completeness but was cautioned against.

 

Like the ‘Hugs” sticker, ‘Ask Me Anything’ was adopted by most. One late night conversation became a circle of people pushing the limits of what they would normally ask each other:

“What is your kink (fetishes)?” “What have you done which has made you feel really morally bad?” “Given your intelligence, I am surprised by your career choice. Can you tell me about that?” “You belong to minority group X within the group here, I’m curious how that makes you feel.”

 

What's Next

There was no discussion of whether another mega-meetup should happen: all involved assumed that obviously it would and we should just start planning now. More people, longer, more stickers. We might invite New Zealand.

 

Mega-meetups are awesome and we heartily recommend everyone have them. They don’t have to be weekend-long events, your local area meetups don’t have to be large, just bring them goddamn rationalists together.

 

Credit

An enormous amount of credit goes to the organisers who made the event happen. In the counterfactual world where any one of them was absent, this mega-meetup would not have occured. 3^^3 cheers for taryneast, DanielFilan, Elo, and Nick Winter!

 

 


 

1. Sydney existed in a previous incarnation two years ago, but started up again recently.

 

25 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2014-05-22T15:23:35.313Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Awesome awesome awesome! This sounds super cool and I am noticing myself being actually sad that I wasn't there.

“Given your intelligence, I am surprised by your career choice. Can you tell me about that?”

It amuses me that someone who wasn't me was asked this question, and now I'm super curious as to who.

comment by Elo · 2014-05-22T10:19:10.333Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Mega-meat-space meetups for all!

to quote http://lesswrong.com/lw/4ul/less_wrong_nyc_case_study_of_a_successful/

I did not believe that life could be this much fun or that I could possibly achieve such a sustained level of happiness.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-05-22T15:47:53.572Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

One late night conversation became a circle of people pushing the limits of what they would normally ask each other: “What is your kink (fetishes)?” “What have you done which has made you feel really morally bad?”

Yea, that's not good idea. Group pressure and the impetus of the moment leading to either strangers having a lot of power over you, or the usual deflecting pseudo-answers. Neither scenario I find particularly compelling.

comment by Ruby · 2014-05-23T13:25:05.945Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I have updated towards your position.

comment by Elo · 2014-05-24T13:54:20.933Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can vouch for the minimal abuse of the system. Maybe it was only having 25 exclusive people on camp, or maybe no one was ready to abuse the system. I would do stickers the same again (and advise others to do try it out too).

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2014-05-23T20:22:25.391Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For people voluntarily donning "Ask Me Anything" stickers, I'm less nervous than I otherwise would be. The whole point of a sticker like that is that it's safe to ask.

comment by Raemon · 2014-05-23T21:10:12.763Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Bear in mind, once some threshold of people in a group don such a sticker, it becomes socially uncomfortable to not don such a sticker.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-05-23T21:47:22.132Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

That is a worry, but I think the narrower worry is that an ask me anything sticker, in the light of day, is different from a late-night ask me anything sticker. When one originally puts it on, one might be prepared to say "sorry, not answering that," but at a late-night session where the last twelve limit-pushing questions were answered and your executive function is depleted from it being late, you might answer a question you wouldn't in the light of day.

I think that it is still a good idea on net. Doing this sort of thing with other people actually does make them less of a stranger and more of a friend.

comment by FeepingCreature · 2014-05-25T06:56:45.034Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can't you just take your sticker off?

comment by Vaniver · 2014-05-25T07:13:02.222Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can't you just take your sticker off?

In the same way that one can just stop drinking when they've had enough. That is, it may not be wise to assume it will happen by default, but it is not impossible, and the sort that consider it easy are not the ones we're worried about.

comment by FeepingCreature · 2014-05-25T06:56:13.455Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe offer "Opted out of AMA to demonstrate that it's okay to opt out" stickers. Might be a bit large.

comment by shminux · 2014-05-23T21:59:56.565Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In a gathering like that I'd probably remove my sticker if I found it to be the case...

comment by Raemon · 2014-05-24T05:57:32.941Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is the feature of a poorly-executed gathering, I think it's a feature of human-minds-given-some-threshold of people in a group you want to be part of deciding-to-do-a-thing, no matter what that thing is.

If you have above-average-ability-to-resist-social pressure, that doesn't determine whether or not you should have the sticker on. Or at least, the two factors at play are:

1) do you want to encourage people to ask you questions?

2) if the group is at the threshold, and you want to be asked questions, but you also don't want people feeling pressured to put the sticker on, then yeah, you might want to take it off, but only for the benefit of other people.

comment by shminux · 2014-05-24T16:09:45.464Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I meant 2).

comment by Raemon · 2014-05-25T02:07:48.573Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, gotcha. Fair enough.

comment by Ruby · 2014-05-24T02:32:06.423Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The whole thing hinges on how much you trust people when they assure you you can say potentially upsetting thing X to them. Generally, not very much. I would never trust a sticker or declaration to the extent that I wouldn't model someone's response, it's just an update on that model.

It was emphasised that people didn't have to answer any question, but the empathy should have been equally pushed.

On this occasion, askers were very hesitant to ask questions they thought would be too personal, but those being asked invariably responded without any hesitation or unease. Discovering that you could ask personal questions you were curious about with only the positive consequences of closeness and openness was a win.

But this does all include a good deal of judgment. Not an exercise for a group not high in empathy or generally unconcerned about others' responses, nor for those who are easily pressured.

comment by therufs · 2014-05-25T17:25:35.550Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

strangers having a lot of power over you

I am having trouble imagining a question a stranger could ask such that my honest answer would actually give them a lot of power over me. I can think of a few things one might not want to admit to someone in a position of authority, but that's not the same thing. Do you have any examples in mind?

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-05-25T18:33:44.783Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

“What is your kink (fetishes)?” “What have you done which has made you feel really morally bad?”

Now, typical friends wouldn't exercise that power over you (at least you'd have reliable experiences and probably some symmetry in sensitive knowledge indicating thus).

However, I imagine the spread of people with non-standard notions of morality / social norms to be higher at a LW meetup, and I doubt you could consider everyone present in such an exchange your friend. With neither 'typical' nor 'friend' being applicable descriptors, you'd really be taking a chance.

Unless you've lived a conventionally virtuous life, a single anonymous email to your boss or casual gossipping about your kink could be your downfall. Excepting you being so open about your secrets that they're not privileged information in the first place, and can be read about on okcupid.

Do you have any examples in mind?

This one time, at band camp ...

comment by [deleted] · 2014-05-26T17:30:11.433Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Why would I want to work for the kind of boss who would fire me just because an anonymous email told them something I do in private with my girlfriend? Also, if I worked for such a boss, what would stop people from just making shit up? (I mean, besides my boss's spam filter, which would also work if they told the truth anyway)

comment by satt · 2014-05-26T18:34:45.813Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Why would I want to work for the kind of boss who would fire me just because

It mightn't be a matter of "want"; one's current job might be the only job one could find, or it might be a job that's unusually good in most other respects, and therefore hard to replace with a different, superior job.

Also, if I worked for such a boss, what would stop people from just making shit up?

Basically nothing, in theory, but in practice most people have a moral barrier against anonymously spreading lies about you unless you've gone out of your way to piss them off, and the barrier is lower for anonymously spreading truths. I can easily imagine a psychologically normal person trying to get me fired by telling the truth simply because they dislike me; I have a harder time imagining a psychologically normal person trying to get me fired by lying unless I've crossed them.

Moreover, suppose your boss gets the email and isn't sure whether it's accurate, but so strongly disapproves of what it describes that they decide to probe you about it. If the email's nothing but lies, you can straightforwardly say "that email's nothing but lies" with a clear conscience. But if the email is basically correct, it's hard to deny what it says without lying yourself, which is more psychologically demanding and has a greater risk of backfiring. As such a made-up email is less dangerous.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-05-27T07:38:41.057Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Basically nothing, in theory, but in practice most people have a moral barrier against anonymously spreading lies about you unless you've gone out of your way to piss them off, and the barrier is lower for anonymously spreading truths.

How much lower, in the case of explicitly private information? I mean, the contents of the e-mail in the made-up e-mail scenario are no less of a lie than “I won't tell anybody” before asking in the truthful e-mail scenario.

Moreover, suppose your boss gets the email and isn't sure whether it's accurate, but so strongly disapproves of what it describes that they decide to probe you about it. If the email's nothing but lies, you can straightforwardly say "that email's nothing but lies" with a clear conscience. But if the email is basically correct, it's hard to deny what it says without lying yourself, which is more psychologically demanding and has a greater risk of backfiring. As such a made-up email is less dangerous.

Good point.

comment by Jiro · 2014-05-27T20:48:53.047Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How much lower, in the case of explicitly private information?

If the email sender also morally disapproves of the actions described, then quite a bit lower. People are much less reluctant to release private information about others when the information is about (what they consider to be) misdeeds.

comment by satt · 2014-05-29T01:02:53.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How much lower, in the case of explicitly private information? I mean, the contents of the e-mail in the made-up e-mail scenario are no less of a lie than “I won't tell anybody” before asking in the truthful e-mail scenario.

It's a fair question. It's tricky for me to answer as I'm using my black box of social intuition to guess how people's minds would work in a (relatively) uncommon situation I (thankfully) haven't experienced, and it's hard for me to open the box to see what model or evidence my gut's calling on. I guess a kind of situation I have in mind is someone who says "I won't tell anybody" with fully sincere intentions when they say it, but conveniently forgets about that before/at the time they start disliking the disclosee. I don't know how realistic that scenario is, though.

comment by BloodyShrimp · 2014-05-22T18:15:10.582Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They did voluntarily put on "Ask Me Anything" stickers, but still, I kinda agree with you.

comment by luminosity · 2014-05-22T11:56:35.898Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I consider this evidence that we need to bring more rationalists together more often.

Hear, hear!