Friendly Meetups: Use the Internet to Get Off the Internet

The internet has a bad rap for making people anti-social, but actually it's a great tool to meet friends IRL (in real life).

This post is in partnership with Pepsi Refresh Project

June Casagrande blames a cup of espresso and its subsequent caffeine buzz on the formation of the Women Writers Lunch Club. “I was up late at night thinking about how isolated I’d become as a freelance writer,” she recalls. “My only human contact was through volunteering at a soup kitchen and seeing my husband at the end of the day. I needed more interaction with like-minded women.”

In the midst of her “night crazies,” Casagrande posted an ad on the Los Angeles Craig’s List, as well as emailing the mystery writers’ group, Sisters in Crime. Turned out there were other writers out there who needed a midday connection. Twenty-five in all have since become members of the group that’s been lunching each month for four years now. “The whole idea was to have a no-obligation gathering of writers to talk about commonalities like sources and editors,” says Casagrande. “The glue is the core understanding based on our professional lives.”

Experiences like Casagrande's is not unique. Humans have always been social creatures and despite the internet's bad rap for making people anti-social, it can be a great tool for widening your social circle.

In fact, one online company has made it a mission to do just that. Meetup is one of the most popular sites for people to connect with people in their community. "We use the Internet to get people off the Internet,” Kathryn Fink, Community Development Lead, explains. “We’re the world’s largest network of groups that meet face-to-face.”

Face-to-face meetings were of utmost importance to Scott Heiferman, Meetup's CEO and co-founder. Heiferman lived in New York during 9/11. What struck him in the aftermath was the number of strangers saying hello to one another and striking up conversations. A desire to connect people with one another was born, resulting in Meetup being established in 2002. “Years ago, people relied on local, social institutions to connect one another,” explains Fink. “Scott saw that model was rapidly changing, but the need to maintain a happy, healthy, local community, was still necessary.”

Working towards a new, modern concept of getting together, Heiferman created Meetup to revitalize accessible, local communities. Since its inception, Meetup has provided communities a way to connect and voice concerns as well as create movements.

For Los Angeles-resident Alphonse Muse, it was an interest in East Indian culture that landed him on Meetup’s website. “I did a search for Indian social clubs and voilà, there it was,” he says. “Through the Meetup group I’ve had the opportunity to explore other avenues beyond my average, ordinary life; everything from comedy clubs to hiking, dining out and Bollywood dance classes.” He’s even gained business via these new connections. Says Muse, “I recently filmed a Bollywood performance through one of the classes I’ve been attending.”

Today, there are 90,000 local meetup groups and nine million users in over 100 countries. “There’s a meetup happening in the world every 13 seconds,” says Fink. Several groups have even become so successful they’ve turned into non-profit organizations. Others have launched businesses. Some have even resulted in wedded unions between members. And as for the Women Writers Lunch Group – they continue to champion each other through book launches and support one another through daily ups and downs, their sense of community strong.

To read more about getting involved in your neighborhood, read the GOOD Guide to Your Commnunity.