The ever increasing in popularity of smart phones has given rise to the new social phenomenon of phone poking. Everywhere you look, places that once used to hum and buzz with conversation and ring out with laughter are now full of silent, grim-faced people who are all very busy poking their phones.
Once I was on the ferry, travelling between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The lounge was full of eerily silent teenagers. The only sounds I could hear were the faint throb of distant diesel engines, the slap of the waves against the side of the ship and the occasional buzz and click from the phones the teenagers were clutching. Much phone-poking was taking place. There were no verbal conversations happening at all.
And then a catastrophe happened! The ferry cruised out of the cell phone reception area and all the phones went dead. The teenagers sat there, shocked and bewildered.
"OMG I hve no sgnl," one of them finally said out loud to her friend. "Do u?"
"No," said her friend. "LOL."
"wht cn wee doo?"
"xqqqs me," said her friend, "I hve 2 p."
Smart phones have been around for quite some time and the phone-poking phenomenon has now spread far and wide beyond its original teenage protagonists. One day I was sitting in a café with a friend who was poking her phone and ignoring me. "How's your day been?" I asked.
She poked furiously and said nothing.
"Your coffee is getting cold," I pointed out.
Her rate of poking increased and she frowned with concentration. Not a word passed her lips.
"Read any good books lately? What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Would you like to see my etchings? Or maybe my scratchings?"
My phone buzzed, indicating that I had a text message. I opened up the relevant app and read the message. It said, "Stop talking to me. I am poking my phone and your being very distracting."
"That should be Y-O-U Apostrophe R-E," I pointed out to her. "A contraction of you are. Y-O-U-R is the possessive. As in your phone. Which I notice you are still poking..."
My phone buzzed again. Another text message. "Shut UP!!", she explained.
"Where's the smiley face?" I asked. "I'd even settle for a frowny one..."
So what are all these phone-pokers doing with their fingers? Many of them are playing games involving a world-wide network of friends with whom they collaborate to go on quests, raise peculiar crops on their virtual farms and crush candy. A few, who have not yet realised that the fashion has passed them by, are wandering the streets in a daze hunting for pokewhatsits and getting run over by buses.
I myself have been known to play games on my phone. But the games I play are solitary ones that do not require any interaction with other people. I play solitaire and scrabble. My mother-in-law, a lady of impeccable taste, plays freecell. I am lost in admiration which is better than being lost in freecell, an all too frequent phenomenon whenever I play it...
My games, and also the games played by my mother in law, certainly do require a lot of poking However their big advantage is that they can be interrupted at any time and returned to at our later leisure. Connectivity to the cellular network is not a requirement indeed, such connectivity is often a positive disadvantage because when you are connected, the screen fills up with adverts and you have to squint around them in order to play the game properly.
But the games that most other people play seem to have quite different requirements from mine. Connectivity appears to be mandatory.
Puzzled by the poking being indulged in by my friend, I sent her a text message. These days, it seems, she only communicates with the world via text messaging. Her vocal chords have atrophied because they are so underused. All she can manage is the occasional grunt. Consequently she never actually uses her phone as a phone.
"Are you playing a game?" I asked
"Yes," she texted tersely.
"What is it?"
"Do you remember that old children's party game Pin the Tail on the Donkey?" she texted.
"Well I'm playing a variation on that. It's a game that's taking the world by storm. It's called Pin the Dick on Donald!"
Intrigued, I texted her again. "How does it work?"
"When you pin the dick in the most inappropriate place, your phone sings Nelly the Elephant at full volume. Listen..." She poked her phone and, accompanied by bells and whistles, the chorus of Nelly the Elephant blared out. "...off she went with a Trumpety Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump."
"I see," I texted. "Does the game do anything else?"
"Yes," she texted back. "It has an add on module that lets you design your own dicks. That's a lot of fun. I've been working hard at it and I've got some really elaborately ugly ones. I'm going to collect all my best dick pics together and post them on the TwitFace page at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
"Aren't you worried about being stalked by a drone fully equipped with a Hellfire Missile that has your name on it?" I asked.
"Don't be silly," she texted. "I've set my name up as Anonymous Coward. They'll never find me hiding behind that pseudonym." She appended sneery smiley face to the message.
"Orange is the new black," I texted to her and she LOL'ed.