To poke or not to poke? In the cyber-world, this has become a matter of courtesy, consideration, and maybe even comedy. What’s the story on Facebook’s poke feature?
First, what is a poke?
The word “poke” carries a host of meanings – some innocuous and some quite improper.
As a verb, the term is used to refer to a pointed prodding, as when someone pokes another for the purpose of attention or irritation. A person might poke his or her head through a window to check the weather outside. A slow walker might amble along pokily. A casual shopper might poke about in stores, without intending to purchase anything, a practice which is slightly more adventurous than mere window shopping. A meddlesome one is more likely to poke his or her nose into other people’s business. A debater might try to poke holes in his or her opponents’ arguments. (Additional slang usages of the term have become prevalent in the past century, but these do not merit mention in an etiquette column.)
Used as a noun, a “poke” may be an old-fashioned ladies’ proper bonnet or a pouch-like sack, but it may also be a small bag of tobacco or marijuana. Colonial American farmers placed yoke-like pokes on their pigs and sheep to contain them. From this usage comes the term “pokey,” referring to imprisonment. Most often, a poke is a jab with someone’s finger or a nudge with the elbow. In worse cases, an object might be used for poking, such as a stick or even a weapon.
“Poker,” a related word, need not always point to a person who is poking. Folks use a poker to stir up a fire. Others deal cards to play various forms of poker.
“Poke” and “poker” are both derived from the Middle English word “puken,” which pertains to knocking, nudging, rapping, or sticking.
Pokemon, the popular animated figure, has altogether different origins and meanings.
When it comes to Facebook, “poke” and “poker” carry somewhat different connotations.
Users can poke their own Facebook friends by clicking a button on those folks’ profile pages. Only the poke recipient can see that this has happened. When a Facebook user pokes a friend, that friend receives a heads-up in his or her notifications. And that’s the end of it, unless the poke recipient pokes back. What ensues might be something like the Facebook version of “The Hokey Pokey.”
Facebook also has a Pokes page, where a user can see all of his or her pokes, both given and received. It also lists Suggested Pokes.
Why would Facebook users poke each other? Facebook’s own on-site explanation says, “People poke … on Facebook for a lot of reasons (ex: just saying hello, getting their attention).”
How do people feel about Facebook pokes?
Poking seems to receive mixed reviews. Some say Facebook poking is sort of like a simple wave or acknowledgement across the worldwide web. Others deem it more of a nuisance. Repeated unwelcome poking may certainly become bothersome. Reactions to Facebook posting can range. Here are several examples, based on direct comments.
At least a few Facebook users consider Facebook pokes somewhat positive.
“I actually I like them, as it shows who you know …and they know you,” Cherry, of Albert City, Iowa, pointed out. “But sometimes … well?”
Donna, of Orchard Park, New York, took an upbeat tone on poking. “I don’t mind pokes. I only get a few regulars. It shows me folks are thinking about me,” she explained.
In Chisinau, Moldova, Don gave poking a plus. “A guy from one of the [ministry] teams that came to serve with us told us, ‘I don’t have a lot to say. I hope it’s OK with you that I poke you and not send messages. It’s my way of saying hello.’ We told him, ‘Of course it’s OK to poke us. It still lets us know you’re thinking about us and praying.’”
Theresa, of Tolono, Illinois, suggested poking might occasionally be acceptable. “I ignore all but two people who consistently poke me,” she revealed. “I poke back, because I’m watching the number of pokes Facebook allows. I think some people just want to say, ‘Hi, I was thinking about you, but I don’t want to actually engage in conversation with you.’”
Lots of people simply overlook poking on Facebook.
“I usually ignore [a poke], disclosed Candy, of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. “ But it does mean someone is thinking of me.”
“I don’t really bother [with poking], except when someone is in the hospital,” commented Lib, of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Theresa, of Creal Springs, Illinois, stated her view on poking this way: “I have always ignored them, and no one has poked me in years — just the way I like it.”
“I don’t know what they are for, and I ignore them,” added Tania, of Sanford, Florida. “I really haven’t had one in years.”
Jennifer, of Rancho Cordova, California, explained her view on poking: “I only ever used it to return a poke when someone else did it first. But I got bored with it years ago.”
Plenty seem to be averse to Facebook pokes.
Carolyn, of Red Banks, Australia, stated it clearly: “I don’t poke, and I’ll ignore anyone who pokes me. I find [pokes] to be so old and not relevant. I’d rather connect with images and words.”
“[Poking is] stupid and annoying, because what can you do but poke back?” Karen, of Port Townsend, Washington, contributed. “I hardly ever get them anymore, but when I did, I just ignored them.”
“It’s always felt awkward and juvenile to me, very elementary schoolish,” Emily, of Marion, Illinois, pointed out.
Karen, of Lake Villa, Illinois, agreed. “I don’t care for them, and I ignore them,” she said.
“They are irritating as h___,” Beverly, of Claremore, Oklahoma, remarked. “And, yes, I ignore them.”
“They’re stupid,” pronounced Lauren, of Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
“Silly,” admitted Karen, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Useless and annoying,” added Marie Anne, of Chillicothe, Ohio.
Mike, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, echoed the same sentiment. “Meaningless,” he said.
Angela, of Maineville, Ohio, put it simply. “Oy, no pokes!” she exclaimed.
Christy, of Hartford, Wisconsin, summed up poking as “social media’s version of uninvited touching.”
Still, others appear to take poking on Facebook more playfully.
“If you ever poke me on Facebook, I am going to throw you over my shoulder and take you home with me,” quipped Bill, of Milwaukee.
Amy, of Bryson City, North Carolina, outlined when poking might or might not be well received. “If I get poked by a friend, I just think they are thinking about me and saying hi. If it’s a stranger, especially a guy, it’s just weird and creepy,” she suggested.
Despite the whole lotta poking that’s going on, some Facebook users still don’t get the point on how it all works.
“I’m not even sure what their purpose is,” recounted Mike, of Karns, Tennessee. “I got about four to five regular ‘pokers,’ and that’s pretty much it. We poke each other back and forth. No one knows why.”
“I don’t even know how to poke someone,” Kristina, of Salem, Wisconsin, admitted.
Hannah, of Rochester, New York, concurred. “I don’t understand pokes, nor do I use them.”
“I couldn’t figure out who poked me,” confessed Maggie, of Lindenhurst, Illinois. “So it’s useless to me.”
“I never get poked,” pined Tony, of Antioch, Illinois. “So I guess it’s meaningless.”
“Do people even poke anymore?” asked Rebecca, of Littleton, Colorado. “It seems like when Facebook first came out, people poked, but then everyone realized it was kind of pointless and stopped poking.”
“What did it ever mean? Is poking still an option?” queried Kat, of Apex, North Carolina.
“Why not post a real greeting or send a private message, instead of poking?” asked Katie, of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Some say a Facebook poke is even passive-aggressive.
Poking is a means of grabbing someone’s attention without actually having anything to say. It’s like ringing someone on the telephone and hanging up when he or she answers, but knowing the caller identification will reveal the culprit. And it can result in defriending or blocking. But it’s still better than the proverbial “poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
Perhaps those who simply poke others on Facebook, instead of actually engaging in more direct interaction are simply social slowpokes. Or they might simply be poking fun.