Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Social Distancing and Doing Lunch(club)

July 13, 2020

The commonly-understood practice of “doing lunch” has, for some of us, quickly evolved through our efforts to adapt to shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. Weekly meals with friends at a local diner switched over to weekly gatherings by phone on the same day and time of week as soon as shelter-in-place became the norm here in San Francisco four months ago; we began by preparing meals in our own homes and eating together virtually while having our usual conversations by phone, then moved those weekly virtual gatherings into Zoom when a key member of that Saturday Morning Brunch Club obtained a webcam and headset, and most recently recreated a bit more of those weekly pre-coronavirus meals by ordering food from the original diner—which recently reopened for take-out service—and picking it up in time for our Brunch Club gatherings.

A few of us have had family gatherings, e.g., for birthday parties, via Zoom; used FaceTime to stay in touch with people we cannot currently visit onsite; and have made arrangements with other friends to meet online for dinners where we all cook within our own homes and then eat together via Zoom.

Recognizing that part of what keeps us all fresh and vibrant is the act of meeting new people and cultivating new relationships in our professional settings has led to some fruitful exchanges via conferences that were once primarily onsite and have now moved into online environments, as happened with the third annual ShapingEDU Unconference (April 2020) for “dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age”; through onsite meetings of association colleagues, as ATD South Florida Chapter members have innovatively and effectively been doing; and finding and joining long-standing online conference, as was the case for those of us attending a Learning Revolution miniconference on “Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning” in April 2020.

And that’s where LunchClub—described on its website as “an AI [Artificial Intelligence] superconnector that makes introductions for 1:1 video meetings to advance your career” comes into the picture. The unsolicited invitation arrived in my email inbox May 22, 2020, and the note is worth quoting as an indication of the approach taken by those running the service; I’ve added links to the key resources mentioned in that note:

“You’ve been selected to join Lunchclub, a free service that matches professionals for 1:1 video meetings. Lunchclub has a long waitlist, but we found your LinkedIn profile particularly compelling and wanted to reach out. We have been featured in TechCrunch and Forbes and are backed by Andreessen Horowitz.

“Every week, our users explore opportunities and collaborate with people they meet through Lunchclub. If you’d like to skip the waitlist and join them, click on your special link below.

“Not interested? Simply ignore this e-mail and we’ll stop reaching out.”

What intrigued me immediately was the combination of a lack of hard sell; the use of artificial intelligence to foster connections through the service; the financial backing it was already attracting; and the positive documentation provided through the TechCrunch and Forbes articles. The background I found on the three people—Vladimir Novakovski, Hayley Leibson, and Scott Wu—who founded Lunchclub also made it sound very interesting.

Accepting the offer and becoming registered was easy. I filled out a simple form online asking for information about my professional interests and goals in joining the service—in essence, making it extremely clear up front what I hoped to gain from Lunchclub. I responded to a follow-up message asking if/when I would be available for a Lunchclub match that week; how many 45-­minute sessions I wanted to schedule—I’ve consistently opted for one per week to keep things manageable; and any preferences I had in terms of whether I would be connected to someone locally or someone outside of my own community.

The match came quickly. I had my first conversation (via Google Meet, which offered me the additional benefit of being introduced to that tool while actually using it for something potentially productive) a few days later, and had the fantastic experience of being in touch with a local writer and researcher working in UX writing and content strategy. My second outing did not go so well; even though we had both indicated times and days we were available, my match wrote twice to reschedule, then failed to show up at all. Things were quickly back on track with my third match—a copywriter who writes branded content about entertainment, tourism, and finance; blogs about films; had shared a strong interest in journalism, having served an internship with the Columbia Journalism Review fresh out of college. Next up was a writer, actor, and teacher creating socially-conscious, progressive entertainment—including a well-received, fabulous short film currently streaming on HBO. Week Five put me in touch with a freelance copyrighter and content strategist who also is a musician. Week Six brought me together with a writer-producer helping companies with creative solutions. And my Week Seven conversation was with a product manager at Google who also works as an interview/career coach in addition to writing a blog, giving workshops, speaking at events, and painting.

All of this would simply be an interesting period-of-pandemic diversion if all we did was meet, chat, say good-bye, and then go our own ways—and there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it’s not was really appeals to me; I already struggle to stay in touch adequately with people I know through the various projects I do and associations I support. What really intrigues me is what these conversation might produce beyond the initial point of contact.

The results, after seven weeks, have been fascinating. I’ve already begun interacting with a few of those Lunchclub matches via social media postings (LinkedIn as well as Facebook). I’ve taken the time to look at some of the work they discussed during our online sessions. To go deeper into what they have posted online. Reading some of what they have produced. And even watching and loving the short film written by and featuring, in an acting role, my Week Four Lunchclub match. I’m in the early stages of collaborating with one of my Lunchclub contacts on what may become a new online course we would produce together.

Most importantly, I take a bit of time at the end of each week to prepare a short set of updates I can send to each of those people I have met—which, of course, has further seeded our ongoing conversations in ways that may produce positive results far beyond what any of us imagined when we first accepted that wonderful invitation to “do Lunchclub” in a time of pandemic-induced social distancing.

–N.B.: This is the fourteenth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences, and to our continuing interactions online.


The Well-Connected Community: Attending Conferences with Genetically-Enabled Foursquare

January 30, 2013

Foursquare—that lovely social media tool that helps make us aware, through geotagging capabilities, of how physically close we are to those we might not otherwise encounter—seems as if it would be a uniquely valuable tool for those of us attending conferences and trying to catch up to colleagues from across the country or around the world.

ALA_Midwinter_2013The idea that our mobile devices could take the initiative in providing us with information we hadn’t yet thought to actively solicit—e.g., finding out, through notifications, who among our friends and colleagues is nearby—is something that David Weinberger and Nova Spivack referred to as being a part of Web 3.0 in January 2009 during a presentation at an American Library Association presentation in Denver. In positing a Web 3.0 world in which our devices would alert us before we asked for the information, the two presenters clearly evoked a wide range of reactions during that session. Some people were clearly fascinated and excited by the prospect, while some of us appeared ready to crawl under the nearest rock and whimper about the loss of privacy and anonymity. Most fascinating to me, at the time, was the discovery a few days later that the sort of service Weinberger and Spivack were predicting as an innovation on its way was already in use; a quick online search today confirmed that Foursquare itself was created within months of Weinberger and Spivack’s presentation. Furthermore, one of its predecessors (Dodgeball) preceded the prediction by nearly nine years—once again proving how hard it is to be a futurist in a world where the future seems to have unfolded before we even have a chance to predict it.

nmc.logo.cmykFoursquare came back to mind during my recent participation in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas and the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting in Seattle over a seven-day period. Although there was no need for anything like Foursquare at the NMC conference—all 100 participants were staying in the same wonderful resort outside of Austin and spending our days in one beautifully accommodating meeting room—one could argue that the ALA conference, with thousands of participants bouncing back and forth between meeting rooms in the convention center in Seattle and also staying in a wide range of hotels throughout downtown Seattle, was prime Foursquare turf.

And yet I never once thought about signing up for or using Foursquare to expedite connections. From the moment I stepped onsite into Seattle’s enormous Washington State Convention Center, I began running into exactly the colleagues I hoped to see. Within my first hour there on a Friday afternoon, I had settled into a conversation in a lounge area with a colleague from Nashville. We were joined, intermittently, by colleagues from California, Chicago, and many other places. Walking the large exhibits area early that evening, I had opportunities to talk with colleagues from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dublin (Ohio), Chicago, Orlando, and many other places. In fact, a colleague I initially met earlier in the week at the NMC summit in Austin was there in Seattle, and it turned out she was sharing a room with a colleague with whom I serve on an ALA committee. (I’m left wondering whether Foursquare could have alerted me to that particular connection.) I capped off the evening with my one planned encounter: dinner with a colleague who recently left Georgia to accept a wonderful new position in Cleveland.

I suspect it’s not necessary to drag this out with an hour-by-hour description of all the similar encounters I had throughout the day on Saturday, but it’s worth noting that when I found myself unexpectedly with a completely unscheduled 90-minute block of time Sunday morning, I ran into a cherished colleague—Peggy Barber—who never manages to leave me less than completely energized by her descriptions of the projects she currently is completing. We decided to take advantage of that opportunity to go to a nearby independent coffee shop—the Caffe Ladro outlet at 801 Pine Street—that had been recommended by Seattle residents so we would have some uninterrupted time for conversation. And you surely know what came next: we ended up sitting next to a couple of other conference attendees who were close associates of a colleague from Florida.

That’s when I had another moment of revelation: neither Peggy nor I are drawn to Foursquare because we somehow have a genetically-enabled version of the product deeply embedded in our DNA.

I’m not saying I’ll never try Foursquare. But for now, it seems redundant in a world where the simple act of showing up puts me in contact with those I most cherish and who, in turn, make me glad that our incredibly connected onsite-online world somehow manages to place us in exactly the right location at exactly the right time to sustain our various communities of learning and communities of practice.


%d bloggers like this: