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Man drives across country to turn Facebook friends into 'real' friends
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Natalie Crofts, KSL
Mikel McLaughlin is on day 28 of his of his project, which has taken him to six states so far. He left his home in Minnesota at the beginning of April and estimates he has met around 70 of his 336 friends so far.
"Sometimes you’ll see people post something (on Facebook) along the lines of saying they are having a spring cleaning and going through their friends list and deleting people they haven’t talked to in a while," he said. "That was kind of where I got the idea — I thought, what if somebody instead of deleting people they hadn’t talked to in a while, they talked to them?"
McLaughlin said most of the people he is meeting with are friends from high school, college or law school who he hasn't connected with lately, but that others are friends of friends who he is meeting for the first time.
Everyone has been receptive to interacting outside of Facebook, he said. Often they will meet up at a coffee shop or restaurant, but McLaughlin has also been able to spend quality time in his friend's homes.
“Those types of weaker connections have been some of the most interesting because you kind of know them and know who they are because you’ve heard a little bit about them, but most of it is brand new," he said. "You ask simple questions like ‘where are you from?’ and ‘how old are you?’ — things that you don’t even know."
Every day of the journey provides new opportunities to learn, McLaughlin said. Whenever possible he tries to spend the day doing whatever his friends would regularly be doing at that time of day so he can experience a piece of their lives and talk about that.
He said he was curious to see how his interactions with people would change after he sat at their dinner table, talked with them and played with their kids.
"Oftentimes on Facebook people have negative experiences or there is bickering or fighting amongst people — I think that is easier to do when you don’t have a very good relationship with somebody," he said. "If you don’t know them very well it is easier to say negative things about people and treat them poorly."
So far, McLaughlin has visited friends in North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah. He plans to visit Colorado and Iowa before returning home to Minnesota, where he will spend time meeting with friends near home before hitting the road again. He has been traveling while waiting for results after taking the bar exam, which he found out he passed a little more than a week ago.
He said his goal isn't necessarily to meet with all of his friends, but to stay busy while still having the flexibility to hang out with someone longer if they are having a good time. He has been chronicling his meetings on his blog titled "We're Friends, Right?"
"I'm going more for quality time with people as opposed to quantity," he said. "I think I might have been able to meet up with a lot of people if I just drove into town and invited them out to the bar or something, but for the most part I’m doing one-on-one meetings with people so we can have some time to talk.”
The meetings have led to some new adventures, like flying radio control airplanes and visiting sites where the movie "The Goonies" was filmed on the Oregon coast. One of his favorite experiences so far was meeting with a woman he had never met before who is Facebook friends with his wife. Her husband, who works as a police officer, came home to take him on a three-hour ride-along and gave him a tour of the city.
While some of the meetings have been awkward, especially when he and the other person can't even remember how they became friends in the first place, he said there haven't been any negative experiences. Everyone has been really generous and some people have even sent care packages home to his wife, according to McLaughlin.
“It has been really fun and really rewarding,” he said. “I was kind of getting tired of people and rather pessimistic about everything, but it has been a really rewarding experience and I’ve got that feeling again where for the most part I’m starting to think people are good.”