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NBC 7 speaks with Mikel McLaughlin, a Minnesota man currently on a unique road trip across the U.S. in which he's trying to meet every one of his Facebook friends in person, even some he's never met before. McLaughlin's experiment and travels are documented on his website, We're Friends, Right?
A Minnesota man is on a mission to get real social with his social media friends: he’s driving across the U.S. in an effort to meet all of his Facebook friends in person, some for the first time ever.
“For me, I started to realize that as my Facebook friends number grew, I knew less and less of them very well. I had some free time and I thought, ‘This might be an interesting experiment for me,’ and a fun one as well to see if I could connect with people on a basis that didn’t involve a computer screen in front of us,” Mikel McLaughlin, 35, told NBC 7.
McLaughlin began his social experiment road trip on April 2 from his hometown of Bloomington, Minnesota.
By Friday, he was on day 74 of his trek and had made it all the way to San Diego where he planned to meet with an old high school friend he hadn’t seen in 18 years.
“When I started this, she actually reached out to me and invited me out, which is great. A lot of times I’m the one kind of inviting myself so it’s always nice when somebody invites me,” McLaughlin explained.
So far, McLaughlin has met 156 of his Facebook friends face-to-face and traveled through multiple states including Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, California and Iowa. On his way back home, he plans to visit friends in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
McLaughlin said that when he began his project – aptly dubbed “We’re Friends, Right?” – he had 302 friends on Facebook. He now has more than 500 friends and though he’s not sure he’ll be able to meet all of them, he plans to keep trying.
The friends he has visited so far have included everyone from old childhood pals, including a friend he hadn’t seen since he was 8, to distant relatives, friends of friends, and friends of his wife.
About 15 to 20 of those people have been friends he had only previously met through Facebook, but never in person until now. He said those meetings haven’t been too awkward, and he’s enjoyed becoming better friends with people.
“Just about every time I leave somebody I feel like I’m a little bit closer to them than I was. I’m not making best friends necessarily while I’m out here, but I’m making a lot of first steps towards better relationships,” he explained. “I’m trying to build relationships, create memories and also, I like to write about it on my website, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
McLaughlin said he’s had some very fun, unexpected adventures with friends on this trip, too, including the time one of his Facebook friends -- a police officer in Rigby, Idaho -- took him on a ride-along.
“I got to turn on the siren during a funeral procession, even. It was a busy day,” he laughed.
Another friend took McLaughlin to Yellowstone National Park for the first time ever, while another showed him around the hometown of late Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain, in Washington.
While most meetings with friends have involved lunch or coffee somewhere, McLaughlin said he’s really enjoyed the travel aspect of his project and the times when his friends have showed him around their hometowns.
And, after more than two months on the road, McLaughlin can say he’s gotten great response from most of his friends and not many rejections to his meet-in-person friend requests.
“Nobody so far has given me a hard ‘no,’ though in fairness, I have gotten some non-responses and some people that have come up with some brilliant excuses which may or may not be true. But nobody has actually said no [to meeting] so far,” he said. “I’ve been surprised by how receptive and open people have been to it. For the most part everybody is saying, ‘Yeah, come on over, let’s do something.’”
After each encounter with a friend, McLaughlin writes a post on his Facebook page and website as a way of chronicling his journey. He also tries to take a selfie with each and every friend and posts it to his Facebook timeline.
He said the most surprising thing about this trip, at least so far, is how nice people have been to him, proving that the human connection is still really there.
“People have been good to me. They’ve treated me really well – they’ve been generous with their time,” he said. “That’s the main thing. I was starting to get rather cynical with my approach to people, and it’s changed quite drastically since I’ve been doing this.”
McLaughlin intends to make his way back home to Minnesota by July 3. After that he plans to spend time with his wife and maybe map out another leg of his trip, if time allows.
McLaughlin said he graduated from law school last year and is currently waiting to get licensed, so this seemed like the perfect time in his life to hit the road and attempt this project.
As for his growing pool of Facebook friends, McLaughlin said he’s still accepting friend requests and will try to meet as many new people as possible in person, perhaps down the road.
“I’ll go [and do this] until I feel like it’s over. I don’t know when that’ll come,” he added.