How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

post by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-09-08T18:28:08.264Z · score: 48 (19 votes) · EA · GW · 4 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  Answers
    47 meerpirat
    37 Khorton
    32 Denise_Melchin
    26 Joey
    22 Kerry_Vaughan
    20 evelynciara
    20 JasperGeh
    20 MichaelStJules
    20 esantorella
    16 ishaan
    13 G Gordon Worley III
    10 MichaelA
    6 Ben_West
    5 Jmd
    4 Agrippa
    3 Andreas_Moe
    3 SiebeRozendal
None
4 comments

I'm interested in stories of people changing the way they interact with the EA movement/community, whether they've become more deeply involved or dialed down their involvement. This seems like a good way to understand what EA's "infrastructure" (organizations, communities, etc.) is doing well or badly.

Has your involvement changed in the last ~12 months? If so, what factors were important in that change?

Examples might include:

Answers

answer by meerpirat · 2020-09-09T10:30:56.524Z · score: 47 (17 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm really excited about EA since I found out about it ~6 years ago. I think I always had the underlying impression that I'm not smart enough to contribute to anything except by donating and being a welcoming and generally knowledgable cheerleader in my local group. Maybe two years ago I started realizing that this mindset, while keeping me from feeling bad about making mistakes, was also keeping me from growing. Since then I try to push myself to make up my own mind more and I started to take part in discussions on the EA forum, mostly when I feel like I wouldn't increase the noise too much with my comments, e.g. when nobody else commented, or I feel strongly that what I comment adds something. (Reading this, I feel like the true story is messier, but it describes a facet of how my engagement changed.)

comment by Jmd · 2020-09-13T20:44:35.539Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I second the 'not feeling smart enough to contribute' - I am also 6yrs old and still get overwhelmed by the incredibly thinkers, the jargon, and the philosophical arguments that become so abstract my head hurts. I was pretty happy being a 'generally knowledgeable cheerleader', but now I am without a local group, so I guess I'll let your leap inspire me and try grow a bit myself.

comment by anon_account · 2020-09-20T16:43:30.493Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I also experienced the hesitation to contribute. The more involved I've gotten, the more inspired I've been by the many people I've met who are creating ideas and solutions to problems they care about. I have started doing more of that in my own EA circle, being less afraid of 'being wrong'. It's been very satisfying.

answer by Khorton · 2020-09-08T22:30:55.108Z · score: 37 (29 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I got involved in the EA community so that I would have friends who are generous and motivated by helping others. I'm still hanging out with my in person EA friends, and meeting new people through a career-specific EA network and WANBAM, but I'm less keen on hanging out with EAs online in general.

I've seen a few cases where EAs online say things that are pretty racist or sexist. They'll be defended with comments like "we need to be free to break be intellectual ground and find the truth", but I don't understand how telling me I'm less likely to be a genius because I'm a woman at a social event makes anyone any better at improving the world. It certainly doesn't make me better at improving the world.

comment by Dale · 2020-09-09T00:30:04.351Z · score: 19 (17 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
I've seen a few cases where EAs online say things that are pretty racist or sexist. They'll be defended with comments like "we need to be free to break be intellectual ground and find the truth", but I don't understand how telling me I'm less likely to be a genius because I'm a woman at a social event makes anyone any better at improving the world. It certainly doesn't make me better at improving the world.

I realize this is probably not what you were looking for, but I think I can think of what they might have been thinking of, or at least times when it would be relevant (though obviously the actual conversation you were is was probably different!). Specifically I can imagine a conversation going something like this:

  • Alice: Economic growth is very important because it is exponential and helps people all over the world and in the future.
  • Bob: That's true. We should discuss ways to help speed up economic growth.
  • Carol: One thing that might help is promoting free trade with the developing world.
  • David: Economic growth is strongly driven by a small number of geniuses, who do things like invent electricity or semiconductors. We should try to help identify more geniuses and give them the right opportunities.
  • Eve: Interesting idea. Maybe we could look at the list of science nobel prize winners to get some ideas.
  • Frank: It seems that women are very under-represented on this list, probably because of the patriarchy. We could focus specifically on things like Women in STEM to help address this and find the 'missing' geniuses. That could almost double the total number.
  • Grace: I don't think that's true. The male variability hypothesis states that men tend to be more extreme than women - both more dysfunctional criminals and more super geniuses. This is a pretty well established theory, and it predicts we'd see more male geniuses even if there was no discrimination. We should focus on other ideas, like looking for potential in very poor parts of India and China.

You're right that telling you personally about your probabilities of being a genius isn't super helpful, because you already have a lot of other pieces of evidence (like your SAT scores) that mean the base rate isn't very useful. And I can certainly imagine people introducing this subject in an awkward way! But when we are considering a potential policy to improve the world, it's important to consider all the evidence. I don't know if you'd consider the male variability hypothesis to be sexist - I think it's best to taboo [LW · GW] the term personally - but whether or not it is sexist it is probably true, and relevant to this EA discussion about improving the world.

comment by Khorton · 2020-09-09T11:23:44.437Z · score: 29 (14 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd be a lot less annoyed about it in this particular conversation - I've seen it brought up in much less relevant contexts.

comment by Julia_Wise · 2020-09-10T13:31:23.153Z · score: 55 (22 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

An example I remember from a non-EA, mostly male meetup:

Man, striking up conversation with new woman attendee: "So, are you actually interested in [topic of the meetup] or did someone drag you here?" When I objected, he said, "It's just that most of the women who come here are dragged by someone else." That might have been true, but it sure wasn't what I'd want to hear as a new attendee.

It might be a mistake people are more likely to make if they think explicitly about Bayesianism. "I have some data on what people like you are like; let me tell you my prior." But one point of a meetup is to encounter people as individuals. If I understand Bayesian terms right, it's about gathering data to inform your posteriors - what is this specific person actually like?

In some cases it's not a bad idea to let your priors drive conversation - if I meet someone who's a biology student, I might guess they're interested in topic X. But in other cases it's just insulting.

comment by Misha_Yagudin · 2020-09-09T11:07:31.170Z · score: 19 (10 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

This comment is currently at 0 karma and 5 votes. I would appreciate it if someone would tell me why did they downvote. I am not questioning the decision; I am looking for a more nuanced perspective on how to have better norms around sensitive topics.

My uncertain guess is that, while the comment's story could improve discussion on conversational norms, being a devil's advocate in a thread about unpleasant and alienating interactions doesn't contribute much to it?

comment by Khorton · 2020-09-09T11:33:39.951Z · score: 43 (21 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

My guess would be something similar. I thought the comment was basically fine, although I think it was a distraction to assert the "male variability hypothesis" is true - I think Dale should have focused on conversation norms.

If I were to upvote the comment, it would be because it was written kindly and clearly and furthered the conversation.

If I were to downvote the comment, it would be because Dale seemed to assume I didn't understand that sometimes these conversations are relevant to improving the world. I do understand that, and I'm complaining about how often these kinds of comments are defended in totally useless and irrelevant settings. So that feels a little patronising.

comment by Tom_Beggs · 2020-09-11T14:02:12.891Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

From your article on the male variability hypothesis:

Recent studies indicate that greater male variability in mathematics persists in the U.S., although the ratio of boys to girls at the top end of the distribution is reversed in some specific immigrant groups.

and

These results have been replicated and expanded in a 2019 meta-analytical extension [...], which found that policies leading to greater female participation in the workforce tended to increase female variability and, therefore, decrease the variability gap.

These sound like arguments for environment to me, which would mean that "Frank" is still likely correct and "Grace" is misinformed on what the patriarchy is and how it works.

answer by Denise_Melchin · 2020-09-11T17:13:28.561Z · score: 32 (14 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

My response feels similar to Joey's and Kerry's.

I care about doing as much as I have always done and am as invested in doing it, but have found the EA community to become intellectually stale. Personally, I also feel like the EA community does not incentivise me to do good as much as it once did (but more to 'perform EA-ness').

I am still as socially involved as I have previously been, but feel more emotionally disconnected as well as less intellectually excited.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-09-22T16:05:06.146Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I was sad to read this, but I hope it also gives current community-builders a chance to learn from someone who has been part of the community for a long time.

What's an example of a time the community produced something you found to be intellectually exciting? Do any old posts or discussions come to mind?

What felt different about the community that used to make you feel a stronger incentive to actually do good? Are there ways you used to share your progress which aren't available, or which don't feel valued anymore?

answer by Joey · 2020-09-11T10:42:06.980Z · score: 26 (20 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Equally or more focused on doing good but less involved with the EA movement. Broadly I am less sold that engaging with the EA movement is the best way to increase knowledge or impact. This is due to a bit of an intellectual slowdown in EA, with fewer concepts being generated that connect to impact and a bit of perceived hostility towards near-term causes (which I think are the most impactful).

comment by sky · 2020-09-12T23:23:17.528Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Joey, could you say more what you mean by "concepts...that connect to impact"? I'm interested in examples you're thinking of. And whether you're looking for advances on those examples or new/different concepts?

answer by Kerry_Vaughan · 2020-09-11T16:47:36.321Z · score: 22 (13 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm much less involved now than I was 12 months ago. 

There are a few reasons for this. The largest factor is that my engagement has steadily decreased since I stopped working an EA job where engagement with EA was a job requirement and took a non-EA job instead. My intellectual interests have also shifted to history of science which is mostly outside the EA purview.

More generally, from the outside, EA feels stagnant both intellectually and socially. The intellectual advances that I'm aware of seem to be concentrated in working out the details of longtermism using the tools of philosophy and economics -- important work to be sure, but not work that is likely to substantially influence my worldview or plans. 

Socially, many of the close friends I met in EA are drifting away from EA involvement. The newer people I've met also tend to have a notably different vibe from EAs in the past. Newer EAs seem to be looking to the older EA intellectuals to tell them the answer to what they should do with their lives and how they should think about the world. Something I liked about the vibe of the EA community in the past was the sense of possibility; the sense that there were many unanswered questions and that everyone had to work together to figure things out. 

As the EA community has matured, it seems to have narrowed its focus and reigned in its level of ambition. That's probably for the best, but I suspect it means that the intellectual explorers of the future are probably going to be located elsewhere.

comment by ImmaSix · 2020-09-12T18:50:52.493Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Question for my understanding: what is your current job?

comment by Kerry_Vaughan · 2020-09-14T14:31:59.923Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I work at Leverage Research as the Program Manager for our Early Stage Science research.

answer by evelynciara · 2020-09-12T21:55:31.449Z · score: 20 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've gotten more involved in EA since last summer. Some EA-related things I've done over the last year:

  • Attended the virtual EA Global (I didn't register, just watched it live on YouTube)
  • Read The Precipice
  • Participated in two EA mentorship programs
  • Joined Covid Watch, an organization developing an app to slow the spread of COVID-19. I'm especially involved in setting up a subteam trying to reduce global catastrophic biological risks.
  • Started posting on the EA Forum
  • Ran a birthday fundraiser for the Against Malaria Foundation. This year, I'm running another one for the Nuclear Threat Initiative [EA · GW].

Although I first heard of EA toward the end of high school (slightly over 4 years ago) and liked it, I had some negative interactions with EA community early on that pushed me away from the community. I spent the next 3 years exploring various social issues outside the EA community, but I had internalized EA's core principles, so I was constantly thinking about how much good I could be doing and which causes were the most important. I eventually became overwhelmed because "doing good" had become a big part of my identity but I cared about too many different issues. A friend recommended that I check out EA again, and despite some trepidation owing to my past experiences, I did. As I got involved in the EA community again, I had an overwhelmingly positive experience. The EAs I was interacting with were kind and open-minded, and they encouraged me to get involved, whereas before, I had encountered people who seemed more abrasive.

Now I'm worried about getting burned out. I check the EA Forum way too often for my own good, and I've been thinking obsessively about cause prioritization and longtermism. I talk about my current uncertainties in this post [EA · GW].

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-09-22T16:42:20.009Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

When you got involved the second time around, did you start out with an in-person group, or online discussions? If the latter, was this mostly the Forum, or mostly other places?

comment by evelynciara · 2020-09-23T03:56:31.616Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think I started out with r/EffectiveAltruism and checking out effective altruism websites. Then, someone wrote a post on the subreddit encouraging people to post on the EA Forum because that's where the action is. So now I'm mostly involved in the forum, but also some Facebook groups (although I try not to use FB often) and Discord.

comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-13T19:18:54.738Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Very glad your second bout of experiences with EA has been more positive! And sorry to hear that your earlier experiences were negative/abrasive. I'd be interested to hear more about that, though that also feels like the sort of thing that might be personal or hard to capture in writing. But if you do feel comfortable sharing, I'd be interested :)

Additionally/alternatively, I'd be interested in whether you have any thoughts on more general trends that could be tweaked, or general approaches that could be adopted, to avoid EA pushing people away like it did the first time you engaged. (Even if those thoughts are very tentative, they could perhaps be pooled with other tentative thoughts to form a clearer picture of what the community could do better.)

comment by evelynciara · 2020-09-13T23:00:17.673Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The main thing that originally drove me away from the movement was people being dismissive toward causes that the EA movement doesn't focus on. At the time, I believed that conventional causes like climate change and international human rights advocacy (e.g. Amnesty International) are worth working on, and I wanted to know more about how they stack up against EA's focus areas. I heard comments like (paraphrased below):

  • In response to my suggestion that an EA student group partner with advocacy orgs at the university: "We could, but a lot of them are probably not effective."
  • In response to my complaint that EA doesn't focus enough on climate change: "You have to prioritize among the global catastrophic risks. Climate change is the least of them all." (I think they meant to say "least neglected", but just saying "least" made it sound like they were saying climate change isn't important.)
comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-14T07:35:09.814Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing :)

Do you think you wouldn't have found it as negative/abrasive if the people still basically argued against a focus on those causes or an engagement with other advocacy orgs or the like, but did so in a way that felt less like a quick, pre-loaded answer, and more like they: 

  • were really explaining their reasoning
  • were open to seeing if you had new arguments for your position
  • were just questioning neglectedness/tractability, rather than importance

I ask because I think there'll be a near-inevitable tension at times between being welcoming to people's current cause prioritisation views and staying focused on what does seem most worth prioritising.[1] So perhaps the ideal would be a bit more genuine open-mindedness to alternative views, but mainly a more welcoming and less dismissive-seeming way of explaining "our" views. I'd hope that that would be sufficient to avoid seeming arrogant or abrasive or driving people away, but I don't know.

(Something else may instead be the ideal. This could include spending more time helping people think about the most effective approaches to causes that don't actually seem to be worth prioritising. But I suspect that that's not ideal in many cases.)

[1] I'm not sure this tension is strong for climate change, as I do think there are decent arguments for prioritising (neglected aspects of) climate change (e.g., nuclear power, research into low-probability extreme risks). But I think this tension probably exists for human rights advocacy and various other issues many people care about.

comment by evelynciara · 2020-09-14T20:24:08.472Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. I agree that the tension exists. Cause prioritization is one of the core ideas of EA, so it's important for us to emphasize that, but delicately so that we don't alienate others. Personally, I would use I-statements, such as "I care about <issue 1> too, but I've chosen to focus on <issue 2> instead because it's much more neglected," instead of you-statements that might put the listener on the defensive.

comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-15T07:23:29.072Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

That makes sense to me. 

It also reminds me of the idea - which I've either heard before or said before - of talking about taking the Giving What We Can pledge by telling the story of what led one to take it, rather than as an argument for why one should take it. A good thing about that is that you can still present the arguments for taking it, as they probably played a role in the story, and if other arguments played a role in other people's stories you can talk about that too. But it probably feels less pushy or preachy that way, compared to framing it more explicitly as a set of arguments.

(These two pages may also be relevant: 1, 2.)

answer by JasperGeh · 2020-09-09T20:39:46.389Z · score: 20 (11 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Less-ish, compared to my first EA-involved years after 2015, I think.

After starting my PhD two years ago I was aware of the prospect that I would have less time for more intense EA involvement (although my PhD is part of the broader EA career plan). But I didn't anticipate how much the lack of community would affect this. While I run a local group in my city, nobody so far is into EA enough to start their infovore-journey down the rabbit hole.

Not living in an EA hub and regularly discussing with other, deeply involved people leads to a cycle where I feel less motivated to read up on the latest research because there's nobody there to personally discuss it with over lunch or coffee. It was more motivating when I still (even if only irregularly) visited Berlin. I still donate and I still visit all the conferences I can to meet friends and get a glimpse of the possible good life but I do fear a future lack of motivation due to a lack of peers.

answer by MichaelStJules · 2020-09-09T04:40:42.430Z · score: 20 (12 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm much more engaged in EA these past ~12 months. In the past ~12 months I

  • Made my first EA donations
  • Attended my first EA Global and EAGx
  • Became (more) active on the EA Forum
  • Read more EA research
  • Hung out more with friends I met through the local EA club outside of EA club activities
  • Applied to EA internships and jobs (wasn't successful until May)
  • Am doing a research internship for Charity Entrepreneurship (since May)
  • Am currently in the interview process for a paid researcher position at an EA org
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-09-10T08:29:43.189Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Nice! Of all the things you've listed, were any of them the initial actions that inspired some of the others? (e.g. attending EA Global led you to use the Forum more, which led you to apply to jobs)

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-09-11T20:35:51.712Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Charity Entrepreneurship and some other EA orgs post their research to the forum, so I read a lot of that and commented on some of them in preparation for my application to CE last summer, and this might have lead to more longer term engagement. Around when I decided I should quit my full-time earning-to-give job to pursue EA research (taking courses and applying to internships/jobs), I started reading the EA Forum almost daily, and I got much more engaged on the forum when I did actually quit in December.

I was encouraged to apply to CE for this summer, I think based in part on some (hopefully useful) comments I left on their research on the forum, and my meeting with one of their researchers at EA Global.

It's pretty similar for the other org I'm currently in the interview process for (with EAGx instead of EAG).

I also donated a pretty significant portion of my income in December to EA orgs, and I imagine that was a useful signal of dedication and helped with my chances in getting EA positions. The donations were also informed by all the reading I had done in preparation for applying to EA roles (e.g. I was still skeptical of the impact of corporate campaigns before then). I don't know if I would have donated less in total if I hadn't done that reading, though, rather than just to different places.

answer by esantorella · 2020-09-08T19:56:22.300Z · score: 20 (12 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I’ve maintained a low but steady involvement in EA since I took the GWWC pledge in 2012, or even since my now-husband took it in 2011 (#97). Over the past few years, I’ve tried to stay abreast of new developments by reading this forum, reading newsletters from GiveWell, OpenPhil, CEA, and 80k Hours, and occasionally chatting with a friend. In the past, I’ve done a poor job of this while I was focused on work (earning to give), but this year I’ve had more free time due to the pandemic. I donate every year.

So to answer the question, I went from doing a low amount of reading to a low-to-medium amount of reading, and somewhat increased my level of donations as my income rises over time.

99% of the time I spend on EA is figuring out where to donate. In 2014 or so, I was involved in a student group, went to meetups, and went to a conference, but I stopped since I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I couldn’t point to any altruistic action I’d taken as a result of the events I’d attended. (I did meet a lot of really great people!) I think there are benefits to operating independently -- I’m reading a different set of books than others are, avoiding stressful community drama, reducing the risk of groupthink, and of course saving time.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-09-10T08:30:44.002Z · score: 20 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think there are benefits to operating independently -- I’m reading a different set of books than others are, avoiding stressful community drama, reducing the risk of groupthink, and of course saving time.

This seems very reasonable! With one caveat: If you read any exceptionally good books, consider stopping by to tell the rest of us about them :-)

answer by ishaan · 2020-09-10T18:29:26.090Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

This time last year, I started working at Charity Entrepreneurship after having attended the 2019 incubation program (more about my experience here). I applied to the 2019 incubation program after meeting CE staff at EAG London 2018. Prior to that, my initial introduction to EA was in 2011 via LessWrong, and the biggest factor in retaining my practical interest sufficiently to go to a conference was that I was impressed by the work of GiveWell. The regular production of interesting content by the community also helped remind me about it over the years. 80k's career advice also introduced me to some concepts (for example replacability) which may have made a difference.

Going forward I anticipate more engagement with both EA specifically and the concept of social impact more generally, because due to working at CE I have acquired a better practical understanding of how to maximize impact in general than I did before, as well as more insight about how to leverage the EA community specifically towards achieving impact (whereas my prior involvement consisted mostly of reading and occasionally commenting).

answer by G Gordon Worley III · 2020-09-09T18:33:24.308Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Mixed. On the one hand, I feel like I'm less involved because I have less time for engaging with people on the forum and during events and am spending less time on EA-aligned research and writing.

On the other, that's in no small part because I took a job that pays a lot more than my old one, dramatically increasing my ability to give, but it also requires a lot more of my time. So I've sort of transitioned towards an earning-to-give relationship with EA that leaves me feeling more on the outside but still connected and benefiting from EA to guide my giving choices and keep me motivated to give rather than keep more for myself.

answer by MichaelA · 2020-09-13T18:54:08.087Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've become much more engaged in the last year. I think this was just a continuation of a fairly steady upward trend in my engagement since I learned about EA in late 2018. And I think this trend hasn't been about increased inclination to engage (because I was already very sold on EA shortly after encountering it), but rather about increased ability to engage, resulting from me: 

  • catching up on EA's excellent back-catalogue of ideas
  • gradually having more success with job applications 

Ways my engagement increased over the past ~12 months include that I:

  • Continued applying to a bunch of EA-aligned jobs, internships, etc.
    • Over 2019 as a whole, I applied to ~30 roles
    • Perhaps ~10 were with non-EA orgs
  • Attended my first EAGx (Australia) and EAG (London)
  • Made my first 10% donation
    • This was to the EA Long-Term Future Fund
    • This was also my first donation after I took the GWWC Pledge in early 2019
  • Started posting to the EA Forum, as well as commenting much more
  • Was offered two roles at EA orgs and accepted one
  • Stayed at the EA Hotel
  • Mostly moved from vegetarianism to veganism
    • This was influenced by my stay at the EA Hotel, as basically all the food there was vegan, and I realised I was pretty happy with it
  • Was later offered a fellowship at a different EA org and accepted it
  • Made a bunch of EA friends

Overall, I've really enjoyed this process, and I'm very glad I found EA. 

I've found some EAs or EA-adjacent people rude or arrogant, especially on Facebook groups and LessWrong (both of which I value a lot overall!). But for some reason this hasn't really left me with a bad taste in my mouth, or a reduced inclination to engage with EA as a whole. And I've much more often had positive experiences (including on Facebook groups and LessWrong).

comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-13T19:03:45.781Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've also changed the style/pace of my engagement somewhat, in a way that feels a little hard to describe. 

It's sort-of like, when I first encountered EA, I was approaching it as a sprint: there were all these amazing things to learn, all these important career paths to pursue, and all these massive problems to solve, and I had to go fast. I actually found this exciting rather than stressful, but it meant I wasn't spending enough time with my (non-EA) partner, was too constantly talking about EA things with her, etc. (I think this is more about my personality than about EA specifically, given that a similar thing occurred when I first started teaching in 2018.)

Whereas now it's more like I'm approaching EA as a marathon. By that I mean I'm: 

  • Spending a little less time on "work and/or EA stuff" and a little more time with my partner
    • My work is now itself EA stuff, so I actually increased my time spent on EA stuff compared to when I was a teacher. But I didn't increase it as much as I would've if still in "sprint mode".
  • Making an effort to more often talk about non-EA things with my partner
  • Reducing how much I "sweat the small stuff"; being more willing to make some frivolous expenditures (which are actually small compared to what I'm donating and will donate in future) for things like nice days out, and to not think carefully each time about whether to do that

I think the factors that led me to switch to marathon mode are roughly that:

  • It seemed best for my partner and my relationship
  • I've come to see my relationship itself in a more marathon-y and mature way (or something like that; it's hard to describe), I think due to the fact that I got married this year
    • This seems to have made ideas about compromise and long time horizons more salient to me
    • (I mean this all in a good way, despite how "seeing my relationship as a marathon" might sound!)
  • My career transition worked! So now I feel a bit less like there's a mad dash to get onto a high impact path, and a bit more like I just need to work well and sustainably
    • But this change was only moderate, for reasons including that I remain uncertain about which path I should really be on
  • Getting an EA research job means I can now scratch my itch for learning, discussing, and writing about interesting and important ideas during my work hours, and therefore don't feel an unmet intellectual "need" if I spend my free hours on other things
    • In contrast, when I was a teacher, I mostly had to get my fill of interesting and important ideas outside of work time, biting into the time I spent with my partner
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-09-22T16:10:43.681Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

[...] catching up on EA's excellent back-catalogue of ideas

Did you this mostly through the EA Forum? Through books/articles scattered across a bunch of different websites? 

Given your experience, if someone else were to want to catch up on this "back-catalogue" themselves, how would you recommend they do it?

comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-23T07:26:18.478Z · score: 19 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Those are good questions. I can't remember in great detail what I did (and especially the order and causal attributions). But here's my rough guess as to what I did, which is probably similar to what I'd recommend to others who are willing/keen to invest a bunch of time to "get up to speed" quite thoroughly:

  • I started mainly with the 80k career guide (now the "old career guide"), problem profiles, career profiles, and other 80k articles I found via links (including their older blog posts)
    • I'd now recommend the Key Ideas article rather than the career guide
  • I listened to every episode of the 80k podcast
  • I started going through the sequences (Rationality: AI to Zombies) on LessWrong, mainly via the "unofficial" podcast version
    • But I only finished this around February this year, after getting a job at an EA research org, so the latter parts probably weren't key to my journey
    • But I'd still definitely recommend reading at least a substantial chunk of the sequences
  • I watched on YouTube basically all the EA Global talks since 2016, as well as a bunch of other EA-related videos (see here [EA · GW] for where to find such videos)
  • I started listening to some audiobooks recommended by Wiblin, Beckstead, and/or Muehlhauser [LW(p) · GW(p)]
    • I selected these based on how relevant they seemed to me, how highly the people recommended them, and how many of those 3 people recommended the same book
    • I've now listened to/read 30-38 (depending on what you count) EA-relevant books since learning about EA, most of which were recommended by one of those people. I should probably share my list in a shortform comment soon.
  • I read a lot of EA Forum and LessWrong posts
    • I think I basically bookmarked or read anything that seemed relevant and that I was linked to from elsewhere or heard mentioned, and then gradually worked through those bookmarks and (separately) the list of most upvoted posts based on what seemed most relevant or interesting
  • I looked at most major EA orgs' sites and read at least some stuff there, I guess to "get a lay of the land"
    • E.g., FHI, Center on Long-Term Risk (then FRI), GPI, Charity Entrepreneurship, Animal Charity Evaluators ...
  • I started listening to some other podcasts I'd heard recommended, such as Slate Star Codex, EconTalk, and Rationally Speaking
    • I found the first of those most useful, and Rationally Speaking not super useful/interesting, personally
    • See also this list of podcasts [EA · GW]
  • I subscribed to the main EA Newsletter
    • I now also subscribe to the EA London newsletter, and find it useful
  • I read everything on Conceptually
  • I read some stuff on the EA Concepts site
  • I applied for lots of jobs, and through the process learned more about what jobs are available and what they involve (e.g., by doing work tests)
  • Probably other things I'm forgetting

I think this process would now be easier, for a few reasons. One that stands out is that the tagging system makes it easier to find posts relevant to a particular topic. Another is that a bunch of people have made more collections [? · GW] and summaries of various sorts than there previously were (indeed, I made an effort to contribute to that so that others could get up to speed more efficiently and effectively than I did; see also [EA · GW]). 

So I'd probably recommend people who want to replicate something like what I did use the EA Forum more centrally than I did, both by: 

  1. reading good posts on the forum (which are now more numerous and much easier to find)
  2. finding on the forum curated lists of links to the large body of other sources that are scattered around elsewhere

(I expect more sequences on the EA Forum will also help with this.)

comment by Ardenlk · 2020-09-23T13:30:27.484Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Michael, thanks for detailing this. Do you have a sense of how long this process took you approximately?

comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-23T15:01:32.750Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

tl;dr: Duration: Maybe ~12 months. Hours of EA-related video per week during that time: Maybe 4? Hours of EA-related audiobooks and podcasts per week: Maybe 10-15. Hours of all other EA-related learning per week: Maybe ~5-15? 

So maybe ~1400 hours total. (What!? That sounds like a lot!) Or 520 hours if we don't count video and audio, since those didn't actually take time out of my day (see below).

Duration

I learned about EA around September 2018, and started actively trying to "get up to speed" around October 2018. It's less clear what "end points" to use - i.e., when was I now "up to speed"?

Two possible "end points" are when I wrote my first proper forum post and when I was offered an EA researcher job. Both of those things happened around the end of December 2019, suggesting this was a ~14 months process.

But maybe a better "end point" would be around August 2019. By around then, I was running an EA-based club at my school and organising and presenting at local EA events. And in September, I attended EAGxAustralia, and felt - to my surprise! - like I was unusually familiar with EA ideas, among the people there. So that suggests this was a ~10 month process.

Hours of video per week 

I watched EAG, EAGx, and other EA-related videos only while on an exercise bike or while eating. So it didn't really cut into my schedule, except in that it meant I wasn't watching other things at that time (e.g., random history lectures, Netflix). I'd guess this amounted to roughly 4 hours per week.

Hours of audio per week

I listen to audiobook and podcasts while commuting, doing housework, donating plasma, or doing other tasks that don't require much focus but also don't allow me to be on my laptop. This seems to amount to roughly 1-2.5 hours per day. As with the video, this doesn't really cut into my schedule except by displacing other audio things (and also by making me extra helpful with housework when I've got a really good book/podcast!). 

(I also listen at 1.5-2x speed, but skip back often, so the 1-2.5 clock hours are probably ~1.5-3.5 content hours.)

Hours per week ignoring video and audio

During these 10-14 months, I was also teaching at 0.8 FTE and doing a Masters of Teaching (but with a lower course-load than I expect most Masters have, as it was integrated with my actual teaching). This was part of the Teach For Australia program, which people tend to find very busy and intense by itself. So I crammed my "EA study" into weekends, after-work hours, and (teacher) holidays, alongside the (limited and pretty easy) Masters coursework. 

So it wasn't a huge number of hours per week, simply as I had few available. On the other hand, I think I'm happy with working - and tend to work - more hours than is average. And I also just found learning EA-relevant things very interesting, so that didn't drain me at all - it was more like the carrot I dangled in front of myself to get myself to do my other, actual work more efficiently!

And the matter of hours per week is further complicated by the fact that (a) teachers get long holidays, but (b) I had a lot of Masters work and teacher prep work to do during holidays.

So I'd pretty unconfidently guess I spent 5-15 hours per week on this, averaging out across that whole period (including both the work weeks and holiday weeks).

[My original answer ignored the video and audio time, since I'd been trying to remember how much time I allocated to EA-related stuff, and the video and audio didn't really require allocating special time so I overlooked it.]

comment by Ardenlk · 2020-09-25T19:18:30.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks this is super helpful -- context is I wanted to get a rough sense of how doable this level of "getting up to speed" is for people.

comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-24T06:34:49.470Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

(Btw, I've just updated my original answer, as it overlooked the time spent on audiobooks, podcasts, and video.)

answer by Ben_West · 2020-09-15T19:53:17.382Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

My involvement hasn't changed too much – I continue to work at an EA organization, which keeps my level of involvement pretty consistent.

My social circle has become less EA over the past year, which is a combination of people who I knew moving away and me failing to stay in touch with the remainder during quarantine.

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2020-09-19T20:36:26.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Exactly the same for me, minus the bit about people moving away.

answer by Jmd · 2020-09-13T20:36:19.421Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I have changed how I interact with EA since moving countries and starting my PhD. I think mostly because I am no longer in a place with a local group (having a role on local committees was my most direct involvement before), but my move also exactly coincided with Covid lockdown - so, suddenly those normal things stop existing anyways and life online was bigger, which turned out to be pretty great for me (I have some small amount of guilt at being happy about that, but at the moment I think we are allowed to take those silver linings where we can find them!). I have been engaged with EAN through online meetups/email, but also attending virtual events more globally, and volunteering for whatever I can get my hands on (that still fits within the time and brain space I have to spare). This has got me interacting with EA in ways I hadn't before; meeting a wider spectrum of people, reading resources more (including this forum), trying more actively to keep up with the ways the movement is changing. I guess I don't feel like I have become more deeply involved exactly, but something about my involvement has become reinforced, it's survived enough shifts, in my life and in EA, that I feel more confident I am staying here for the long haul.

answer by Agrippa · 2020-09-22T16:54:45.730Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Edit: I'm really happy about my involvement with EA, always have been, and plan to continue increasing my engagement.

I stopped applying for EA jobs because I wasn't even getting a foot in the door. Edit: This reads as sour, really I just got tired of applying for jobs and didn't feel that it made sense to keep aiming for reach scenarios during a pandemic.

I've become more involved on the Discord because I like it, and my involvement pretty much exists completely outside of cause area discussion. I just like the people. But it does definitely passively increase my attention spent on EA ideas.

I moved to SF to meet EAs and moved out due to COVID.

I may have become a little less altruistic in general due to lower QoL causing scarcity mindset, but I expect this to reverse.

answer by Andreas_Moe · 2020-09-19T14:31:43.987Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've been aware of EA since 2016, but only engaged with it seriously in the past 6 months. I've attended EAGxVirtual, joined a local group and have started giving away 10% of my income.

I think my disposistion toward altruism has changed dramatically over the past 12 months, going from being mostly self-intersted to being very interested in improving the world.

comment by MichaelA · 2020-09-19T14:47:55.264Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Nice to hear that your engagement has increased, and that you've started donating more and feel more inclined towards altruism now!

Out of interest, do you think it's more like engaging more with EA made your disposition towards altruism change, or the other way around, or both? Relatedly, do you think EA played an important role in you starting to give away 10%, or that you would've started doing so around the same time without EA?

comment by Andreas_Moe · 2020-09-19T20:14:54.492Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it's mostly the other way around. More altruism causing more engagement. When I first encountered EA, I was more or less immediately convinced that EA was the way to go if one wanted to do the most good, but I wasn't very interested in doing good at the time.

My path towards altruism is quite complicated and I don't entirely know what made the biggest difference, but I'm quite confident that EA didn't play a major role.

comment by Andreas_Moe · 2020-09-19T20:21:21.550Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure if EA has had a counterfactual impact on my donation rate, but my donations are definitely more effective because of EA.

answer by SiebeRozendal · 2020-09-16T17:03:51.931Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I recently moved to a (nearby) EA hub to live temporarily with some other EA's (and some non-EA's), while figuring out my next steps in my life/career.

This has considerably increased my involvement. The ability to talk about EA over lunch, dinner, and to join meetups that are 5 minutes away make a big difference. As well as finding nice people I connect with socially/emotionally.

I suppose COVID had somewhat of a positive influence here too: I am less likely to attend a wide range of events, because I don't know people's approaches to safety. This leaves more time for EA.

4 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2020-09-11T17:36:35.989Z · score: 38 (14 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

In contrast to some of the responses here, I think that EA has become more intellectually sophisticated in recent years. It's true that there were many new ideas at the beginning. But it feels a bit unfair to just look at the number of new ideas, given that it's easier at the start - when there's more low-hanging fruit.

Relatedly, it seems to me that EA organisations also are getting more mature and skilled. There are several new impressive organisations, and others have expanded considerably.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2020-09-11T19:19:08.998Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

EA becoming more intellectually sophisticated does not feel like a contradiction to what I was trying to communicate when I said intellectually stale (I may have expressed myself poorly!). As you said, there were more new ideas at the beginning but that is not the only way to be intellectually non-stale. While there may be more fine-grained detailed and possibly more true claims out in the EA community right now, that does not mean that participating in contributing these ideas is as accessible to people as it once was which is part of what I consider non-staleness to be.

I am a bit confused what you are trying to communicate when you say that it's unfair to only look at the number of ideas.

comment by Mati_Roy · 2020-09-08T19:30:26.443Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it would be good to differentiate things that are instrumental to doing EA and things that are doing EA.

Ex.: Attending events and reading books is instrumental. Working and donating money is directly EA.

I would count those separately. Engagement in the community is just instrumental to the goal of EA movement building. If we entengle both in our discussions, we might end up with people attending a bunch of events and reading a lot online, but without ever producing value (for example).

Although maybe it does produce value in itself, because they can do movement building themselves and become better voters for example. And focusing a lot on engagement might turn EA into a robust superorganism-like entity. If that's the argument, then that's fine I guess.

Somewhat related: The community's conception of value drifting is sometimes too narrow [EA · GW].

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-09-10T08:32:28.256Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that the distinction is often relevant. In this case, I wanted to leave the question very open-ended to encourage more answers. (I also expected people to provide details that would allow me to see how much of their engagement was "instrumental" vs. "direct".)