Meeting E-Friends In Real Life

by Zamgwar
ALL EARS® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the November 11, 2003, Issue #216 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

I am one of those who fall into the category of being "in awe of technology." Maybe it's the reason Epcot stands on the top of my list of favorite Disney parks.

On a regular basis I find myself staring at some mundane everyday item with the same total amazement that bystanders at Kitty Hawk wore on their faces 100 years ago as the age of flight was born. When I see people on cell phones, I still can't shake the '60s image of Captain Kirk flipping open his communicator. In my youth "personal communicators" were science fiction, now every 13-year-old has one. The ability to drive through a toll booth without heaving change into it absolutely astounds me. If stepping up to a "self check-out" in a supermarket isn't "Jetson-esque", I'm not sure what is.

Perhaps nothing says "the future is here now" than the very computer you're reading this newsletter on. It has made "pen pals" of the world, with a wealth of information available to anyone with even the most modest computer access. Whether you need directions to a food store between Orlando airport and WDW, or a good place to eat near Tokyo Disneyland, you need only check in with a few online Disney "e" (for electronic) friends to have all your questions happily answered.

For all they have done, however, to increase communication, computers still tend to be impersonal, cold, and HAL 9000-like. They don't allow you to look into a person's eyes, or see their smiles. Even in the most crowded room, I can differentiate my wife's laugh from a sea of voices, yet all LOLs are the same. For that reason several years ago, I began contemplating meeting the actual people who belong to the Disney screen names I regularly enjoyed online. I say "contemplated," because along with growing up with Walt Disney on TV, I also grew up with Alfred Hitchcock on TV.

In fact, I thought there was a better chance of someone with the screen name of "Grumpy" being an "axe murderer" than one of seven dwarves who work in a gem mine. Surely anyone who spends day and night on a computer talking to complete strangers has a high probability of being wacko.

Luckily, at least so far, I've been wrong... at least about the axe murderers.

One wonderful part of my recent visits to the Realm of the Mouse has been meeting, "face to face", old and new online friends behind the screen names. The old friends are people who have told me what exit "Albertson's" is off the Greenway. The ones who urged me to try a "beaver tail," and pointed out that the top of the Haunted Mansion is made up of chess pieces. The new friends are newsgroup lurkers and ALL EARS® readers who just came up to say hi. Meeting all of the actual "humans" behind the names has been a hoot.

A boat ride back from Disney-MGM Studios recently resulted in a fun encounter with a pair of chiropractors, ALL EARS® readers who were attending (cough, wink, nudge-nudge) a "convention" at Walt Disney World. They warned me of the "evils" of having purchased an annual pass (more on those "evils'" in an upcoming article). Laughs were shared during a stroll down Sunset Boulevard at the Studios with a reader from Toronto. Generations were crossed during a chance meeting with the "daughter" of an old favorite rec.arts disney.parks newsgroup screen name on Tower of Terror. Many laughs were had at an impromptu after-park cocktail meeting of ALL EARSstaff and readers. All of these folks not only seemed to NOT be axe murderers, they seemed like people anyone would love to hang out with after work, in "Non-Disney" World.

Granted, meeting e-friends at the park does take some time. This creates apprehensions that the meetings might take away time from your own personal "Disney Experience." It seems hard enough as it is to do what one wants to do during a vacation, without setting time aside to talk to complete strangers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

To my surprise, I have yet to meet a stranger. While some are indeed more strange than others (myself topping the list), not one has been a "stranger." Far from it, for we all shared a great commonality. The sheer enjoyment of time spent in a vacationland ruled by a mouse in short red pants.

So for those who are curious about the person who types your favorite newsgroup posts, makes you laugh on rainy days or writes your favorite ALL EARS® tidbits, here's Zamgwar's list of how to safely meet your e-friends.

1) Find out who's going when you're going. There are internet lists of who's going and when, such as http://allears.net/btp/meet.htm. On the newsgroups (like rec.arts.disney.parks) it's really easy to see when someone's got a trip planned. The subject line of their post usually says "WOO-HOO I'm going in 26 more days!" You can also post your own "WOO-HOO" announcing your arrival date..

2) If you see an e-friend is going to be there the same time you are, email them and say, "Hey! You want to meet? My personal favorite time to meet folks is for cocktails or ice cream sodas. I personally am not a fan of big meets or group attraction forays. It's not that I'm shy (those who have met me can attest to that), it's just not my thing to do on a vacation. Cocktails, however, is definitely my thing. For "She Who Must Be Obeyed" (AKA Zamgwar's wife, Karen) it is a nightly after-park ritual. The atmosphere of sitting in a comfy chair with a big drink in hand and no pressing place to go is a great way to recap the day and really do some quality laughing face to face.

3) For those who aren't shy about plowing into large groups and saying "Hi, who are you?" or who find large numbers of people more comforting, there are Internet park meets almost every given week. The Mother of all Internet meets, "Mega Mouse Meet," is scheduled for December 6 this year. (See http://allears.net/btp/mousefest.htm for details.)

4) Finally, you can do what I do. Put your screen name on a zillion t-shirts and have a contest for people to find you. This year's "Find Zamgwar" winner was an ALL EARS® reader named Jeff, although he never collected his prize. (If you're reading this Jeff, feel free to email me at zamgwar@aol.com, tell me where you found me and I will make good on the reward. I always do!) Next year's contest is currently scheduled for the week preceding 4th of July, although "She Who Must Be Obeyed" had me trying hard find three days this December and a few days in the spring.

Oh, the evils of the annual pass, but once again, THAT is another story.

Regardless of how and when you chose to break through the "screen" and finally meet some of those online friends, it is sure to be enjoyable. How could it be otherwise? You like the same things. My meetings with "e-friends" haven't taken away from my Disney experience, they've added to it. I can now visualize the sparkle in their eyes, the warmth of their smile, and know what their LOL sounds like, in their emails, trip reports and posts.

Just use common sense, and avoid meetings where you are directed to meet your "e-friend" in a darkened "Goofy" section of the Magic Kingdom parking lot at 1 a.m. in the morning!

That's My2Cnts. What's yours?

John
Office of E-Pals
The Zamgwar Institute

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Editor's Note: AllEarsNet® strongly suggests, as Zamgwar indicates, that you use caution and take common personal safety precautions if you do choose to meet up with any persons you contact through the Internet. Although we have had nothing but positive experiences when we have chosen to meet our "e-friends", as Zamgwar puts it, we realize that there are many unscrupulous individuals in the world who may not be as nice or as friendly as we would hope.

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Related Links:

Read Zamgwar's other articles for ALL EARS® at http://allears.net/btp/zamgwar.htm

Read more about Mousefest: http://allears.net/btp/mousefest.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.