Meetup is bonding strangers and building communities

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By Jonathan Bradley

People take car rides from strangers now, so why not go to a party with strangers too? 

Meetup is an app used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people or plan excursions with strangers with similar interests and is a platform for finding and building local communities.

I joined one of the online groups of strangers and attended a party at the Alleycatz Restaurant Jazz Bar on Nov. 15. 

Meetup co-founders Scott Heiferman and Brendan McGovern came up with the idea for the app in 2002. According to the site, it was created as a “platform to connect with other people in real life.” The app was acquired by The We Company, formerly known as WeWork, in 2017. 

To start on Meetup, I had to enter the city I was looking for events in. Next, it asked about my interests and the options were filtered through. 

Meetup recommended that I join a group called “Fun Things to Do With Singles.” They were holding an event, “Friday Night Party with Live Band & Dancing at Alleycatz,” that worked with my schedule. 

Steve Flemming, the event organizer, has been running events at Alleycatz for a few years. 

“Since I was a kid I’ve been the kind of guy who loved to bring people together to organize social functions and outings for fun or for personal growth, so Meetup was a natural fit for me,” said Flemming. 

The Friday Night Party immediately went in a different direction than I thought. First of all, I walked past the building the Alleycatz was in because its sign was unnoticeable. 

I was the first person to arrive at the bougie bar with fancy Christmas lights inside. The hostess directed me to a massive table.

“More people are coming,” she said. 

People gradually came in. Meha Singh, a Meetup user, was one of the people I sat next to. 

“Pretty much all of my friends are married now and have kids, so at times I do have company and at times I don’t,” said Singh. “When I don’t, this is a nice way to meet people instead of going by myself.” 

About 50 people showed up for the event. There were first-timers and regular users. Most people were young, with a few older people who appeared to be in their 40s. 

The people I spoke with used Meetup because they were new immigrants and university students who were looking for a fun night out, or people with friends who were too busy to go out. 

Danilo Palmer, a Meetup user, said that the app has allowed him to become more social. 

“I’m able to open up more to people. I’m able to talk more confidently,” said Palmer. “I’m able to be in a social environment much easier because I’ve learned a lot about people’s psyche and how people think from being able to talk with so many individuals from so many different places.”

Over drinking rum punch and eating a hamburger, I learned about the university programs people were in, the jobs they worked at and the past events they have gone to. 

The band that performed, Red Velvet, performed cover versions of “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson and “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. 

A DJ took over for 30 minutes, playing songs like “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams, “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring Williams and T.I. and “Fireball” by Pitbull featuring John Ryan. 

I danced along with some people I didn’t know at all as if we were friends. We swayed and bounced as the red, blue and green lights on the dance floor flashed across our faces. 

When I was leaving, the party was still going. The dance floor was crowded as people danced to the loud music Red Velvet was playing and waited for drinks at the bougie bar area with a rock wall backsplash. The smell of sweat and alcohol lingered in the air. 

The people who I had been with on the dance floor were smiling, singing and dancing. I saw some of the people I had been dancing with wave to me across the room. I wish I could have stayed for more time, I felt like I belonged at this event. 

Meetup can help students find new friends and explore their interests without feeling the need to go with their friends or feel embarrassed to go to events alone. In 2016, according to the National College Health Assessment, 66.6 per cent of Canadian university students reported feeling very lonely at any time in the past year.  

Flemming said that Meetup can help relieve loneliness people are experiencing. 

“The very name is the essence of the brand: To meet up and meet people,” said Flemming. “And the great thing is there are all kinds of activities and Meetup groups for people to go to.”

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