Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Meetup.com helps people meet face-to-face

My "Meetup" calendar arrives each week in my e-mail in-box, alerting me to activities by people who have grouped around a common interest.

Scanning a list of the newest groups, I target the "North Bay Skeptics" for taking a closer look. After reading the "Meetup" group's description at www.meetup.com, I'm convinced that I fit right in:
"The North Bay, and Sonoma County in particular, is a hotbed of anti-scientific thinking. Vaccine hysteria, modern medicine denial, ideological faux-environmentalism, you name it, we've got it.
"I'm starting this group in hopes of connecting with some like-minded locals. Even if changing the tide is a futile effort, at least we'll be able to commiserate. Preferably over drinks."
I could do without the drinks, but nevertheless I request to join and introduce myself to the group: "I am a person with Asperger's syndrome who believes that improved detection and expansion of qualifying criteria explains why there are more people today on the autism continuum. I don't agree that these increased numbers are signs of an 'epidemic.'"

More and more people are forming bonds these days that transcend geographical connection. Like-minded attitudes, shared hobbies and beliefs are far more meaningful to me than the accident of proximity.

Some time after Molly Ivins died on Jan. 31, 2007, I created a Facebook group to honor the multi-pronged influence that I felt she had on me: "Molly Ivins inspires me to do what I do." The group, which has all of three members, "welcomes anyone who acts from Molly's example." But having stated Ivins' areas of influence once, in December 2007, I've had little reason since then to elaborate -- thus sentencing the group to obscurity because it fails to show up in my "feed."

Even before we could connect instantaneously through social networking sites, shared interests formed the basis of my first successful relationships. In my mid-20s I joined a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism that promoted reenactment of an idealized Middle Ages: absent the religious intolerance and the wholesale disenfranchisement of the lower classes. We had the ability to explore and create the Middle Ages as they should have been -- and invent ourselves in the process. The SCA was a supportive and hands-on environment in which to learn and explore.

Fast forward to today and sites like Meetup.com give users an additional resource to meet face-to-face with like-minded people. When you supply the Web site with your zip code, it will generate a list of groups within a designated-mile radius. Groups native to Lake County include the Wine Country Boxer dog lovers' group, the Lake County Flying Saucer Club and the Lake County Social Media Workshop.

Supplying the Web site with a topic or an interest may result in a list of groups outside of the designated radius. Sometimes there may be no match, or if there is, the match is bizarre.

The only match that came back under a search for "Gilbert & Sullivan" was Sacfoodallergy -- Food Allergy Support of Sacramento. The group's inclusion is apparently due to the last name of one of its creators.

"Savoyard" is even more obscure and the site's apologetic response is that there are no matches. "But you can browse the 8 Meetup groups within 25 miles of Kelseyville ..."

For more information about Meetup.com, visit its Official Meetup HQ Blog: http://meetupblog.meetup.com/.

Published Dec. 15, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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