(This wasn't prompted, but I could really do with some more prompts/questions
if I'm going to be successful in writing more here during Advent! Help me out, or I'll think you don't want to hear from me!)
Last weekend I went to EAGxOxford, the largest Effective Altruism conference in Europe to date. I had a really interesting time, learned a lot, changed my mind about things, and came away with a bunch of concrete things on my to-do list, many of which I’ve already actually done or started doing.Friday afternoon/evening
I got to Oxford a bit too late to get to the only pre-conference session I was interested in, but early enough to have time to kill, so met up with a couple of old acquaintances for coffee, which was really nice, and I think helped shift me into feeling sociable in a less stressful way than jumping straight into networking with strangers. Speaking of which, the first hour or so of the conference was a drinks reception; that definitely was stressful, but I managed to chat to a few people and have enjoyable conversations, although nothing that really stuck in my mind. Afterwards there was an opening talk, with Toby Ord and Will MacAskill giving a fairly high-level introduction to the ideas and the history of the EA movement. Most of this was fairly familiar to me, but Toby gave a really interesting tour through historical ideas that have contributed to or inspired the development of the movement. After this session people decamped to pubs around Oxford, but I had already reached my limit of unstructured-socialising-with-strangers energy, so I called it a night and went to my B&B.Saturday morning
The morning could have started better, as the shower in my room wouldn’t run hot, but at least I was very much awake by the time I set off! Whilst looking for somewhere to attend Mass on the Sunday I had realised that I was just down the road from St Stephen’s House, and they have a daily house mass, so I went there on my way in. It was a lovely simple service, and brought back fond memories of worshipping and Pusey House, which has a very similar setting.
The first session of the day was the keynote lecture by Owen Cotton-Barratt. There was a moment of “Oh God, everyone’s so young! I’m so old!” but anyway… The lecture was entitled “Prospecting for Gold - Techniques for finding high-value opportunities”. Much like the introduction the previous evening, quite a lot of the material was stuff that I was already familiar with, but it was presented in an engaging way that I think might be helpful for me to think about when I’m trying to share my enthusiasm for EA more widely. There were a couple of ideas that were either new to me, or an important reminder of something I’ve not paid enough attention to. The main example of the latter being the need to think about marginal as well as absolute priority when selecting causes, and the former being the application of the principle of comparative advantage across people living in different times, rather than different places, or with different personal talents.