Thursday, July 14, 2011

Social Networking at it's Best

I've been thinking recently about how much my life has changed for the better due to social networking sites, specifically Facebook and Meetup.  This is so strange to me because while I've always been very interested in computers and have used them since the early 80's (my first system stored data on a cassette tape!), I was also leery of meeting people via the computer, having heard so many horror stories.  
True, I met a long time boyfriend this way but we all know how that ended!  (If you don't know - just suffice it to say 'not well').   But this social networking thing really works... especially when you find a group that focuses on a subject that has meaning for you.

Facebook in particular brought me hundreds of new friends, many of whom I've met in person due to our mutual connection to MS and CCSVI.   In fact, I would not know anything about CCSVI had it not been for Facebook, and that is true for almost all the people I know who had the CCSVI procedure.
It allowed me to publish a book with a woman in Rhode Island who I've never met in person but has become a close friend after many phone conversations and online chats.  It allowed me to meet friends from all over the country when we traveled to Tampa a few months ago for a symposium and walk to raise money for CCSVI education/research.  And now, I've become involved with two other groups where I've met a whole new group of friends.  is a site where you can find people who share your interests and also live in your area.  You gather in a public place and spend a few hours together doing whatever it is your group is involved in.   I found this by accident but figured I'd give it a try.  I joined 3 groups and waited to see where they were meeting next.  Wow - who knew I'd get so involved!  

The first group is called Ft. Lauderdale Folk Singers Sing Out Jam Out or SOJO.   What a mouthful - but it's actually just a bunch of people in the area who like to sing folk songs and get together twice a month to sing and play music together.   Right after I joined the group's organizer resigned and a new guy stepped up to take over.  He asked for help and I volunteered to be on a committee.  I ended up hosting a meeting here at my condo complex in one of the public rooms and 15 people showed up - now they want to have all the meetings here!   Each and every person who was there was a total stranger to me (and to each other) but we all left as friends.  Three hours of making music together and laughing and sharing some history brought us together quickly.  It was so amazing how compatible we all were and what a good time we had.   Everyone has already signed up for the next meeting and we're hoping for an even greater turnout.   This is social networking at it's best - used to bring folks together in real life; a tool, not as an end in itself.

The next group I joined is called South Florida Games and Gamers.   Now this group is well organized and has a lot of people who arrange events in different areas.  Since many of their meetups are pretty far north of me, I hadn't gone to any, but last night I attended a Trivia Contest in Hollywood, about 15 minutes from my home.

   It was basically just a bunch of people who formed a team to participate in a trivia contest that is held in a local watering hole every Wednesday.  The meetup group was just one of many teams that were there.  I love playing trivia so I thought I go see what it was about.  

But here's the amazing part:  the day before the meetup, one of the members who lives near me in Pembroke Pines sent me an email and offered to drive me to the meeting!  He didn't know me and wrote a very sincere email, saying he hoped I wouldn't take his offer the wrong way, but he'd noticed that I was new to the group and that I also belonged to another meetup group that he also had joined.  He sent me his phone number so I called to get a feel for who he was.   Now maybe it was foolish of me to get into a car with a perfect stranger, but I trusted my old HR instincts and was proven correct:  Alan was a perfect gentleman, sweet and helpful, and when he heard that I had MS was really happy he had offered the ride since it's hard to park in that area - this way he said he could drop me off right at the bar and then he'd park the car.  I mean - a total stranger reached out to help me get to this meeting, not even knowing that I had difficulty ambulating.   And when I got to the place, the 5 other people from the group were just as nice!  People who enjoy playing trivia games are generally bright - and this group was smart, funny and fun.   I fit right in and they treated me as if I'd been there for years!   Made 3 new friends and I know I'll be seeing a lot more of them.  Incredible!  Social networking again bringing people together.

Today I'm going to Boca to meet two women I went to High School with!  We reconnected last year through Facebook and have become friends anew.  I got involved arranging a reunion for graduates of Forest Hills High School now living in South Florida and we'll be meeting with the banquet manager to choose the menu for this September reunion.  Over 30 people have signed up on Facebook to attend this dinner~again, social networking at it's best, reuniting old friends and meeting new ones.  

So while many people lament the trend of people sitting on their computers all day connecting with strangers they'll likely never meet, I propose that you can do more and use the social networking sites to get yourself out in the world and meet new people and do new things.   Give it a try - you may just surprise yourself and gain some new friends in the process.