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Click (online). Meet. Click (with new friends).
Source: Sacbee.com
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By: Gina Kim

Need a friend, and not just one of those virtual ones you collect on MySpace?

In the Sacramento area, at least three Web sites take friend-making to the next level: face to face.

People have so much going on that they want to make friends as easily as they book a flight or order lunch � by going online, says Joseph Tecce, a psychology professor at Boston College.

"A lot of people will do this because they're busy and they don't want to waste time on dead ends," Tecce says.

The MEETin.org Sacramento chapter posts events every week ranging from bowling to board games. Sacramento-based TheBlueDistrict.com has several regular events such as dinner, yoga and a book discussion. And then there's always the interest-based Meetup.com, where you choose your interest, be it dodgeball or knitting, and maybe you'll come out with a friend or two.

"I've met probably close to 100 people, and I would consider a good 20 of them to be pretty good friends," says Paul Baker, 36, an electrical engineer who joined MEETin a year and a half ago when he moved to Rocklin.

"It's greatly accelerated the ability to meet new people, at least for me," Baker says. "I've always been on the shy end of the spectrum, so it's always intimidating to strike up conversation with complete strangers."

Long considered the enemy of face-to-face contact, the Internet is becoming the place where people sign up for real-life interaction. Consider it the modern-day friend-maker where you can find someone with whom to get drinks or go for a hike.

"Technology is always accused of taking away the human touch and pulling us apart," says Mikey Heard, 36, creator of MEETin. "This is using technology to do the opposite. It's bringing the human element back."

Heard began thinking of how people meet each other after moving from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. He joined a group of Bay Area transplants on Craigslist and began running a Yahoo group for people looking for others to hang out with.

But then the computer programmer decided to build a site with the sole purpose of helping people meet friends. Heard spent $500 on a server and MEETin went online in 2003. Today, it has 90,000 members from all over the world.

"MEETin is different than Facebook or MySpace. Those sites are built around people you know already," he says. "The thing with MEETin is it's dealing with a whole different population of people who move around because of work. It's like college in a sense, and gives you a place to meet new people."

MEETin stays true to its humble roots. It costs nothing to join and anyone can post events and serve as hosts. Upcoming outings include a group going out for Second Saturday, a 5K-10K race, breakfast, comedy night and a guys' night out.

Diane Foster, 56, moved to Vacaville last month and has already attended several MEETin events � a taco night, a board game night and a poker night.

"I went and met really nice people. Everybody was very friendly and more than happy to introduce themselves," says Foster, a social worker. "I felt immediately welcomed."

Foster had a dog when she lived in Florida and met many of her friends there while walking around the neighborhood, she says.

She also met people through work and when her kids were young, there were their sporting and school activities.

But now, making friends takes more effort, Foster says.

"It's hard to meet people in our society already," she says. "And if you don't put yourself out there, nobody's going to come to your door and say, 'Do you want to do this?' "

Launched last year, TheBlueDistrict.com also lays out a blueprint for making friends. The Web site offers several regular events and members sign up online with a 10-person maximum per event. (A dinner may be $40, a yoga class $15, and a book discussion is free.)

"We want to make sure people get to know each other," says marketing director Stewart Troupe.

"One of us serves as the host and makes sure everyone is introduced, because nothing's more frustrating than when you're stuck in a corner because you don't know anyone."

The decline of friendships in modern times has been blamed on our overbooked schedules and longer commutes, says Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociology professor at Duke University.

Smith-Lovin's research found that the number of a person's close confidants fell from three in 1985 to two in 2004. In the same period, the proportion of those who had no one to discuss personal matters with rose from 10 percent in 1985 to 25 percent in 2004.

"People are officially isolated," she says.

So it only makes sense that people are searching for new ways to connect with others, says BJ Gallagher, a Los Angeles-based sociologist.

"The Internet is a tool and people are finding that this tool is useful for all sorts of things," Gallagher says. "Now it's easier to date, to make friends or find groups to plug into. Before, we used to have to get out the phone book and look up where the local Episcopalian church was.

"Now, you just go to your computer and plug in 'Pasadena Buddhist groups' or 'Sacramento Sierra Club singles.' "

Most people will find a time when they may need a new friend, says Gallagher, whose most recent book, "A True Friend Is Someone Just Like You" (Blue Mountain Arts, $13.95, 94 pages) was published last year.

"Friends come into your life and they may be in your life for a short time or long time. But friends move away, they get busy," she says.

And people should always make room for new friendships, because it's been proven that those with a few close friends live longer, are less likely to be depressed, and are more successful in their careers, Gallagher says.

"Human beings above all else are social creatures," says Gallagher. "We're like dolphins and ants and elephants and lions."