I have been poked several times on Facebook. Let me say at the outset, I just don't get it.
I don't mind being poked, but I don't understand what it means, and my lack of understanding troubles me.
Most Facebook interactions, as far as I can tell, are simulations of real life, face-to-face encounters. I am "friends" with people whom I never see, some of whom I never have seen. But this is like actual, real-life friends whom I might hang around with in an actual three-dimensional world other than cyberspace. When their birthdays roll around I wish them happy birthday, just like the real world.
We have conversations that are just like real-life conversations. Someone will post something like, "What's up with onion bagels?" and 273 people will make a remark about it. This sort of thing happens all the time in real life. Or someone will pose a question like, "Which Jane Austin Character Are You?" and hundreds or even thousands of people will take a quiz to find out, and then share their answers with everyone.
Again, this sort of thing happens in the real world all the time.
When my friends do something I enjoy, I click a button to let them know I like it. This is an exact analog of a real-life situation. Suppose my neighbor Cathy invited me next door and said "There's something I'd like you to see." Inside her living room maybe she'd have a cat in a Halloween costume riding around on a roomba. And I'd probably say, "I like that." Or if she showed me some singing goats. I'd probably like that, too.
Of course, Facebook isn't a perfect simulation of real life. A friend of mine has recently undergone chemotherapy, and I feel uncomfortable liking her post. Of course, in the comment section, I wrote that I would pray for her, but I suppose saying you will pray for someone in a Facebook post is in itself a kind of prayer, isn't it? I mean, surely God reads Facebook. But even though I can offer the mysterious power of prayer through cyberspace, it would be nice if I could signify an appropriate emotion at the same time by pressing a button. In real life, I can just wear a sad expression. This problem, of course, is just a matter of adding more buttons to Facebook that would cover a greater variety of situations with things like, "I am so sorry to hear that," or "(Wo)men. Can't live with 'em. Can't shoot 'em," or "There are some things it's probably better to keep private."
But when someone pokes me, I am truly nonplussed. Naturally, I poke back. It would seem rude not to. But poking seems not only personal, but playfully aggressive. In real life, if someone poked you, wouldn't you need to up the ante? Grabbing them and blowing a raspberry on their arm seems an over-reaction, and is impossible to do on Facebook anyway. Pointing at their shirt and saying, "You have a spot on your shirt," and then, when they look down, bonking them on the nose, is also impossible on Facebook, and is the sort of thing that would only work once anyway.
I think what I will do to the next real-life friend I encounter is poke them and see what they do. I won't say anything, nor will I register any emotion, I will merely poke them without explanation or context. Just like Facebook, they will know they've been poked and by whom they've been poked. I will then observe their reaction, and that will tell me how to respond on Facebook.
I'll let you know how it goes.