Cyber connection, real people, real places

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I’d never been to Wiley Hall on the West Bank of the University, but figured I would either find a campus map or ask a twenty-something for directions. Figuring out how to find “Eric,” the host of the event, presented the more daunting challenge. I’d only seen one-inch square digital pictures on a web page of Eric and the other members, and was told to meet “outside the lecture hall.” The math and biology lecture drew a bigger crowd than I expected, but despite the multitude, I spotted a guy who appeared to be on the look out for people he’d only seen one-inch square pictures of and asked “Are you with MEETin?”

As it turned out, this was Eric, and I spent the next couple of hours watching the fascinating lecture and then going for a beer with the seven other members afterward. Aside from an interest in both Math and Biology, we all had one thing in common: the desire to meet new friends.

The MEETin.org Website claims it is “a word-of-mouth effort to bring people together from all over for fun, low-key events without paying membership fees. MEETin Groups is an example on how the Internet can be used as a powerful tool to help make new friends without cost.” Joining requires nothing more than the typical signup requirements by providing a working email account, though you are required to choose either a “20’s to 30’s Age Group” or a “40’s to 50’s and Up Age Group.” After registering, filling out a profile, sharing information about yourself, and providing a photo are encouraged but not required. Once you sign on, you have access to the site where you can RSVP to events posted by other members. After attending three events, you are encouraged to organize and post your own and thus partake in MEETin’s ethos (or “vibe”) of making opportunities for yourself and others to meet new people in your city.

You can sign up with MEETin at http://meetin.org, where you will also find more information about MiMN and other MEETin chapters. There is also more information available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meetin

“The cool thing about MEETin is that if there isn’t a particular event that you want to attend, you can post your own,” MEETin member Sarah says. “That’s one plus that is different from other social networking sites.”

MEETin was started in 2003 by Mikey Heard, who wanted to provide a way for the people of Washington DC to connect socially without having to pay membership fees and without the pressures often inherent in business netweorking or dating scenes. Members are not allowed to post events from which they will profit either directly or indirectly. After nearly five years, sixteen US cites have MEETin chapters, including almost 90,000 people. The Minneapolis chapter, open to citizens of both of the Twin Cities and known to members as MiMN (my-minn), has over 1,700 members.

The site boasts “a member every 3 minutes.” A random sampling of 45 MiMN members revealed that 38% join but never attend an event. Another 31% attend four or fewer events, while another 31% attend 5 or more. The average length of membership is a little over two years, but the average member is only active for about six months and attends an event about once every four months.

So, who are you likely to meet at a MEETin event? From the sample of 45 members, the distribution of male (53%) and female (47%) closely matches the general populace, while ages range from 23 to 53 with a mean of 33 years. Demographic infomration such as race, class, income, and education are not given on the site. From my experiences at MEETin events, most are educated or attending university, and appear in dress and speech to represent the middle to upper middle classes. Representative of the general population of the Twin Cities, the majority of attendees are of Anglo decent, but at every event I have attended there is a variety of ethnic backgrounds represented as well as members of the gay and lesbian community. Events are open to all in a congenial atomosphere where everyone is made to feel welcome and an active part of the event.

The MEETin Website, while nondescript, provides means for connecting with other members both by using the Internet and by providing information about live events. Each member has a profile, can send email messages and bulletins within the site, request other members to be added as “friends,” and participate in a wide variety of chats and forums, as well as a classified ads section and news and message boards. The Events List provides an ever expanding catalogue of upcoming activites organized and hosted by members.

MEETin is flexible and open to just about any event imaginable. Since joining, I have attended a university lecture, seen movies, eaten in restaurants, watched parades, gone sledding, warmed my hands at a Halloween bonfire, and visited many coffee shops. I’ve also hosted my own events including Tarot readings, Yahtzee, a blues jam session, and Christmas Eve dinner and a movie. I’ve heard members discuss skydiving, kayaking, camping, dancing, and hiking, biking, and rollerblading events as well. Every MEETin member is sure to express at some point that there are so many things they would never have tried or even known about had they not been a member of MEETin. And best of all, we have been able to form and maintain a wide variety of friendships in the process.

“Overall, it’s been fun,” MEETin member Kao says. “I like that there’re different kinds of people and personalities. I like finding out about places I would have not noticed except through the posts. I like the connections and friendships I’ve been able to make through meeting certain people over time during those events. Overall, my experience has met my expectations: easy-going, friendly and welcoming—and not a pick-up scene—with different activities for a variety of tastes.”

MiMN has its own character and unique identity. According to the MiMN page, “The MEETinMINNEAPOLIS group’s primary focus is to provide a relaxed, ‘non-pickup-scene’ social environment for people to enjoy.” Located in one of the leading centers of the Arts in the United States, MiMN offers regular events at local museums, galleries, universities, and clubs. Those interested in happy hours, camping, hiking, clubbing, barbecues, and ski trips will also find MiMN a helpful springboard to meeting like-minded people. If I plan to travel to another part of the country that has a MEETin chapter, I will have no trouble meeting new friends in that city and having events to attend. My membership allows me to RSVP to events in any of the sixteen chapters nationwide, including Denver, Chicago, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, and Honolulu to name only a few.

Unlike other social networking sites like MySpace and Face Book, MEETin focuses upon providing events where members can meet each other in the real world rather than limiting contact to the virtual. Of course, meeting MySpace members in the real world in not impossible, but to do so is not a function of MySpace as it is with MEETin. My own experiences with MySpace have met with frustration as all contact is limited strictly to whatever can be achieved in cyberspace. I can upload MP3s and videos of myself and my life on MySpace, but through MEETin, potential friends meet the real deal at a real place, over coffee, over a meal, listening to live music, and chatting with a real person in real time. The features supplied by the site serve as a catalyste to growing relationships rather than the sole means of interaction.

I found the MEETin site on Craig’s List while looking for a way to develop friends after the end of a three-year relationship left me without many social connections. Attending that first event at the University took courage and a bit of perseverance, but the payoff has been far greater than I expected. Where I’d hoped to meet people and possibly make a few friends, I now have a best friend and several other developing friendships that I have gotten through my involvement with MEETin. At every event, I meet more people who I would never have had the opportunity to be acquainted with otherwise.

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