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

by Aaron Gertler1 min read8th Sep 202048 comments

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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:

  • Getting a new job in the community
  • Attending your first conference
  • Taking a pledge related to your giving
  • Having a personal experience that made EA feel more meaningful or special to you
  • Finding a new job/hobby/community outside of EA that led you to become less engaged
  • Having an unpleasant interaction that made you feel somewhat alienated from EA
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17 Answers

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.)

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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).

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

I stopped applying for EA jobs because I wasn't even getting a foot in the door.

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.