I spent yesterday morning – the better part of two of hours – poking every person I know on Facebook. Every single person on my friends list.
The seeds for this idea (the merits of which remain still unclear to me. Was this a social experiment? A prank? A very subtle plea for help?) were planted during a dinner conversation with friends. The concept of Facebook “poking” came up, and someone said they didn’t think that feature existed anymore.
“Of course it does!” I said, a bit too enthusiastically. And just to prove it was possible, I grabbed my phone and poked my friend Jen. My reason for selecting her was simple: I knew she would be annoyed, and that we would both find amusement in her annoyance. I was at least half right.
It escalated from there.
The experiment is called, “Let’s Fuck With Jen via Facebook Poking.” — Geraldine (@everywhereist) July 28, 2015
A mild-poking war ensued, between myself and a few others who seemed to have forgotten that I have infinitely more time to spend on fruitless endeavors than they do.
It began with that small circle. I poked Jen, and Jen’s husband, who had done nothing (the poking finger of fate does not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty). I poked our friend Rob, who had it coming, and our friend Dana, who probably did not. I poked my friend Jonathan, who admitted that he didn’t even realize the poke still existed, a noteworthy confession because of this: he works at Facebook.
It could be argued that I won this pointless contest, poking long after the others realized that they had families and jobs and obligations outside of clicking a button on the internet that does absolutely nothing. I alone was victorious because I refused to stop playing a game with no set rules, no prizes, no objective. I am the Queen of Futility, The Champion of The Meaningless.
For those unfamiliar with it, the poke is a relic left over from the social network’s early days. You can send pokes to anyone with whom you are friends. It’s not a message, not a link. It is simply a poke – that’s the beginning and end of the interaction. They can return the poke, potentially starting an infinite loop of poking. Or they can ignore it.
For a few frenzied days, we poked with abandon, and an idea came to me, ridiculous and irresistible.
“I am going to poke every single person I know,” I told my husband.
“Well, … that seems like a good use of your time.”
I lay down ground rules for myself. I can unfriend exactly one person before starting (I choose the cousin of a friend. He and I had met once, 7 years ago. The one friend we shared is no longer on Facebook). After that, I will poke everyone I am connected to. Every single one, without context or explanation.
I go down the list methodically. Once I’ve started, there’s no turning back. Poking half the people in my list would be even more bizarre than poking everyone. Poking has become the great equalizer. In poking everyone, I have poked no one.
At first, it is delightful. I don’t know Facebook’s algorithm – if there is a rhyme or reason to why people appear in the list the way they do. But in the beginning they are all dear friends, and I flick through their pages, seeing profile pictures of them with loving spouses or beautiful children. The messages on their homepages vary – from inspirational quotes to cartoons to outrage over Sandra Bland’s death. I am proud of my friends. They care about people. They are politically aware. I love them.
After 108 pokes, barely scratching the surface of my list of more than 600 friends, I begin to hate their smiling faces. I start poking out of spite.
Approximately 23 minutes in, my rage has subsided and I’ve reached a sort of serendipity. I am going to die doing what I loved.
38 minutes in, I realize this is the stupidest thing I have ever done.
After 45 minutes or so, my arm is starting to get sore (at the elbow, interestingly, and not at the finger, where one would assume poking fatigue would hit first). I realize that if I accidentally close the window from which I am working, I will lose my place forever. I don’t know if Facebook will populate my friends list the same a second time. This prospect terrifies me.
I’m growing tired, and my finger is slipping. I almost report or block a few people instead of poking them.
Focus. Getting sloppy? That’s what gets you killed in a job like this.
I’m going insane. People have started poking me back. I have so many windows open that the dings from my computer echo ten-fold in my headphones, but I don’t have the presence of mind to remove them or even shut off the volume.
One hour in, I consider unfriending everyone who is left, including my mother, just so I can be done.
I poke people I wouldn’t be able to recognize outside of the context of their profile picture and the list of mutual friends we share. I poke people I barely know, which is inexplicably terrifying. Poking is the most minute interaction Facebook affords; if I can’t poke them, why am I even friends with them?
I hesitate before poking my unrequited middle school crush, and wonder if he will mention it to some mutual friend with whom he is still in touch. I wonder if he will interpret it as some subtle suggestion that I am unhappy with my marriage, still enamored with him like I was at 14. This is the problem with poking: in its vagueness, we can assign whatever meaning we want unto it. It means nothing and so it can mean everything.
There are reprieves. I poke my friend Chrissy without hesitation, and relish the freedom our friendship affords me: that I do not need to I explain my actions, online or off.
I poke my rival from high school. I poke my middle school tormentor. I poke my first kiss.
I poke the past.
I see who went to Ivy League schools and who had children and who never gave up the violin. All of my regrets and missed opportunities come racing back at me. There is no time to fix my mistakes. One hour and 13 minutes into this task, and I know I will never do anything but this. This is my life now.
The list is never-ending. I don’t scroll to the end for fear of losing my place or my mind. At one point, I see the end:
But then I scroll down further and discover it is a lie. Facebook is messing with me in unprecedented ways.
People have started messaging me, wondering what the hell is going on. Did I poke them by mistake? Has my account been hacked?
No, I whisper in the stale air of my office. Only my mind.
Some minutes later, I have inexplicably returned to a state of zen. I’m pretty sure this is how Buddhism started. I make a note to read up on it if I ever finish this.
I poke my husband’s colleagues, I poke my old bosses, I poke my mother-in-law. I reach across the backseat and poke my brother. He, miraculously, pokes me back. I am convinced that this is the kindest thing he has ever done for me, ever. I am nearly moved to tears.
I poke my friend’s dog.
My friend’s dog has a Facebook account. And I just poked it.
In some strange tribute that I don’t really understand, I poke Jen last.
And then I am done. Giddy, laughing, crazed, but done. I am every genius and artist who ever undertook a task greater than humanity itself. Beethoven going deaf finishing The Ninth Symphony. Michelangelo going near blind painting The Sistine Chapel. That guy on Man vs. Food who ate the Krispy Kreme Burger and probably barfed afterwards.
When my maniacal laughing subsides, some minutes or hours later (time has ceased to exist; the only currency left is pokes) I have a bevy of messages in my inbox and frenzied posts on my homepage.
Some appreciate the gesture.
Others do not.
I feel a stab of guilt when people find out they were not the only ones poked. I immediately go on the defensive.
But I realize that my clicking, though mindless and misguided and spurred by reasons that I have totally forgotten now, was indiscriminate but not insincere. At some point in time, I accepted their requests of friendship, or they accepted mine. We connected, either in real life or this strange virtual equivalent. The messages I receive and the posts on my homepage make me smile. Even the ones that accuse me of being a poking tramp.
A dear friend from middle school writes to tell me she’ll be visiting Seattle soon, and we need to get together. The cute Swedish foreign exchange student from high school sends me a message asking about my life. He’s getting married in Malaysia, he tells me.
The unrequited middle school crush writes on my page. (13-year-old me faints.)
This weird artifact from Facebook’s early days has given us all a reason to talk to one another. It has removed the passivity from the site. We are no longer avatars and curated newsfeeds and mindless likes. We are now shared memories and new conversations and a ridiculous inside joke that I started because I might have been drunk.
Poking has done the impossible: my social network is now actually social.
I want to tell them all how absurdly important they are to me. That they will find whatever they are looking for in life, whether it be a nanny or a job or their lost car keys. But people are already starting to question my sanity, so I decide it’s not the best time to start professing my affections.
Instead, I’ve just decided to declare today, July 31st, Facebook Poking Day.
24 hours after I started all of this, more than 200 people have poked me back. We have made dinner plans, we have started email threads, we have sent texts.
In the wake of all this madness, I no longer feel like I am connected to strangers. After 615 pokes, my friends list has become exactly that.
P.S. – Casey, you are a dick.