Last week I attended Jesscamp, a fun week-long event where 60-ish people, who spend too much time on Twitter, rented an entire hotel in a rural village in the Black Forest to hang out in real life. A few attendees already wrote their impressions of the event in blog posts or Twitter threads, and I enjoyed reading those. I also want to share my thoughts a week after the camp’s wrap-up.
Jesscamp, named after its initiator, is one of the physical manifestations of a subculture known as TPOT, which stands for “this part of Twitter”. It’s not a tightly-knit community but rather a loosely connected group of people, and many of them, including myself, usually say they are adjacent to this group instead of being core members. The founding story of TPOT, which used to call itself “ingroup” at some point, is that they’re a bunch of nerds who have been deeply involved with LessWrong-style rationalism but wanted to explore other parts of life. They consider themselves post-rationalists; many talk about embodiment and healing or spiritual practices. My connection to TPOT is mostly through Interintellect, which has an inevitable overlap. I only bordered on rationalism through my engagement with Effective Altruism, and I don’t call myself a post-rationalist. I have opinions that diverge from “mainstream TPOT”. Still, I was interested in exploring a group of curious and open-minded people. I came to Jesscamp with little expectations but openness to the experience.
Another similar event had happened just weeks prior: Vibecamp. With over 600 attendees and three days, the US-based camp was a much more extensive and denser experience. I haven’t been to Vibecamp, but a few people went to both Vibecamp and Jesscamp. However, I was curiously following reports from Vibecamp. While many participants enjoyed their experience, some discourse on Twitter gave some negative vibes. Firstly, there was a lot of discussion about status in the community, from lurkers (“lemurs”) to micro-celebrities. Secondly, there was an emphasis on dating while having a skewed gender ratio, leaving some men hoping to get laid at Vibecamp frustrated. I was intrigued by how these things would play out at Jesscamp. Undoubtedly, the small group size would make it more cozy, and the longer duration would make it more relaxed. My experience confirmed these predictions.
Jesscamp had a skewed gender ratio as well, with more male than female attendees, but I haven’t sensed that this was a problem, and I haven’t heard any reports about it either. I haven’t been part of any status discourse either. I don’t know about the experience for others, but Jesscamp felt pretty egalitarian to me. Almost every group at a table seemed open to people joining and leaving the conversation at any time. I am used to feeling out of place, but I never had this experience at Jesscamp, which was new. People were polite, open-minded, and willing to hear what others said. Nobody tried aggressively changing my opinion or peer-pressure me into participating in activities. I don’t like using the term “belonging”, but I felt safe and respected during the event. One thing I noticed, though, is that while there was “diversity of thought”, there wasn’t enough diversity in other areas, such as ethnicity. There were two East Asians and one Indian person, with the rest being White (including slightly darker-skinned Southern Europeans). The only minority with strong representation was trans people. This setup indicated that this is a community of primarily privileged folks, with around 80% of people working in tech (or having worked and currently “funemployed”).
All activities at Jesscamp were spontaneously planned by the attendees, unconference-style, without guidance from the organizers. Some people took advantage of workshops, whereas others spent more time hanging around with others in free flow. I was one of the workshop people. I participated in two improv workshops hosted by Sasha and one clowning workshop hosted by Elle. Both instructors were practitioners but not teachers of their craft, yet they created an excellent curriculum for the group. I enjoyed acting with the group and going outside my comfort zone to express myself. I’m very grateful for the experience.
Other Jesscamp attendees will probably remember me as “the werewolf guy” as I had brought cards and my narration skills for playing the social deduction game. Luckily I found an excited group of players who couldn’t get enough of playing, so we ran werewolf sessions on most nights.
I went on a 13.5 km hike around the village through vineyards and forests with a small group, and we made a trip to the local pool. Other than that, I spent all my time back at the hotel, often doing some work in the morning (once in a great guided co-working session hosted by Alexandra) and then participating in conversations with various people. I also used the opportunity to play a few notes by myself or jam with other musicians. When someone else occupied the piano, I dabbled with percussion instruments. I enjoyed these sessions and wish I could do them more often.
Due to the incredible real-life interactions, I spent much less time on my phone and computer than usual. However, whenever I opened Twitter, I realized the community felt much nicer in person than on social media. More curiosity and mutual exchange compared to controversial hot takes posted for likes.
I didn’t sleep enough during the camp, although I slept more than others. It was intense, and I still felt it back in my daily routine this past week.
I’m glad I went to Jesscamp and will go again when there’s an opportunity to meet the community. I’m grateful to everyone I met and the organizers who made the event happen. Was Jesscamp a life-altering experience? I don’t think so. Still, it was a significant step on the journey I’m already on to become a more whole, socially active, and curious person. It hasn’t given my life a new direction, but it showed me new ways to be and gave me some food for thought.