Epistemic status: very quickly written after some pondering in the shower.
Thanks to Claude Formanek and Max Gehred for comments.
In my experience, there are many low-effort ways to support others in the EA community that plausibly could produce quite a large impact. There have been discussions before exploring how small actions that give you “fuzzies” are perfectly valid, even though they’re not the most effective. There have also been discussions about having “passive impact” through the smart use of your time and resources.
This post is hopefully slightly different to those. I am outlining some of the simple and concrete <5 minute things that I do, or that people have done for me. I believe these actions have, in some cases, produced or multiplied impact to a significant degree. This may be a little bit similar to what Kat Woods has called “slacktivism”
1. Answer people’s questions on Slack
One thing I know about EA is that we have an abundance of Slack workspaces. You’re probably in at least a couple. Take 5 minutes to look for a question you can answer easily, and provide a thoughtful response. Doing this could potentially save someone hours of time.
2. (Read and) comment on the forum
If you’re reading this, you probably spend a fair amount of time on the EA forum anyway. Take some time to comment your thoughts on posts you read. This could help improve the author’s reasoning or give them new information. Sometimes, reading comments has shifted my views on an issue significantly. Those comments were certainly worth the authors’ time because of the impact they had on me as a reader.
3. Fill in the feedback form
Most EA events and programs will ask participants to fill out a feedback form at some point. By taking the time to give thoughtful feedback you could significantly improve the quality of the program for future participants. I’ve personally witnessed EA programs get adapted as a direct result of my feedback. Some individuals also have personal anonymous feedback forms.
People can only assume what you want unless you tell them. Keep in mind that more specificity is usually better.
4. Do some 1-on-1 calls
Okay, I admit this doesn’t take 5 minutes, but I still think it's very easy. In some cases, being liberal with who you give your time to can be important. One hopefully obvious caveat is that there are plenty of valid reasons to protect your time dearly. However, I think that sometimes letting an unknown person book a call with you can be very beneficial for them. They might want to find out about your work, ask for some advice on an issue they’re facing, or work through their reasoning on something.
I’ve had many cases where someone in the community has generously allowed me to book their time without much prior interaction and it has been very useful to me. Not only do I gain valuable information, but it also stokes my motivation and makes me feel integrated in the EA community. If you’re doing this for someone, you don’t need to prepare for the meeting and it usually won’t be very mentally taxing.
5. Send stuff to your friends
Have you seen a job you think they should apply for? An article you think they should read? A program they could participate in?
For a variety of reasons, people may not be exposed to opportunities or resources that would be very useful to them. With the click of a couple of buttons, you can bring those things to their awareness. Another benefit of this is that your friends will appreciate you thinking of them.
6. Reply to posts on the EA Peer Support Facebook group
People in the community sometimes struggle with tricky life situations and mental health problems. In my personal experience, sometimes a comment on this group can be the catalyst for somebody’s situation improving drastically.
Important note: this may be more demanding than it seems, since you could be dealing with sensitive or triggering issues. Know yourself and what you can handle.
7. Be liberal with sharing your ideas
Ideas are (mostly) free. Treat them accordingly. If you think you have a good idea for a project, give that idea to someone. Don’t just keep it in your notebook to be forgotten - you probably won’t ever use it yourself. Tweet it, comment it, message it. Give your ideas as gifts to the world. Someone might do something significant with them. There are many good examples of this kind of sharing. Of course, you don’t have to write up your ideas in a nicely packaged forum post.
Got any other ideas for easy altruistic actions? Let’s see them in the comments.
This opinion may be skewed by my experience as a community builder. We generally spend quite a lot of time doing 1-on-1s