Our world is increasingly isolated and divided. Since the start of the pandemic, the amount of time adults and teens spend alone has dramatically increased and not returned to normal rates. Meanwhile, adult men have lost the ability to maintain friendships. Political factions and a raging culture war have divided us more than ever.
This holiday season, I propose a humble solution: the Facebook Poke.
The Poke, of course, is a very early feature on Facebook through which you send someone a notification that they’ve been “poked.” In the past, a poke might have seemed flirty or annoying. But in 2022, it’s a twee little wink. A whimsical notion. A harmless trifle.
Now I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t poked someone in years. Of course not! There’s a good reason for that. Facebook essentially killed off the Poke feature a few years ago, making it nearly impossible to find. But that only makes it all the more special and delightful when you poke someone now — what a warm and welcome nostalgic surprise it will be for them, like hearing an old favorite song on the radio or smelling grandma’s cooking. But, you know, in this case it’s a nostalgic treat from a massive corporation that has enabled genocide.
Poke was one of the earliest features of Facebook; started back in 2004, it predated the News Feed. But in the more recent past, it declined in use. Facebook was also becoming bloated with features. The Poke, after a failed revival in 2017, was relegated to a link buried deep within the sidebar of features on the desktop website and menu of the app, and eventually disappeared altogether.
This means you cannot navigate to the Poke section by clicking around inside Facebook.com or the Facebook app. That’s why no one has poked you for the longest time.
However, the Poke page still exists! There are two ways to access it:
1. Enter “poke” in the search box of the site or app.
2. Click directly on the URL for the page: Facebook.com/Pokes
What you will see on this page will either horrify or delight you. It’s a list of all the old, outstanding pokes that you never returned years ago. Names of people you haven’t spoken to in years will fill you with warm feelings of camaraderie (or dread!).
(Note: This isn’t a full list of all your old Poke activity, though it is possible to access that by downloading your data archive. You can do that in Settings & Privacy > Settings > Your Facebook Information > Download your information. If you only want the Poke data, I recommend unchecking all the boxes except “Other Activity” for the download — otherwise it’ll be a massive file.)
I went on a poking spree recently after I discovered the long-lost Poke page. It was wonderful. Friends I hadn’t talked to in forever texted or messaged me about it. “I haven’t been poked in 8 years 😂,” a friend who lives far away texted. Another friend messaged “OMG WHY ARE YOU POKING ME?” and then we caught up after a few years in which we hadn’t talked. (He had just been laid off from Meta, ironically.) Another friend who lives far away messaged in response and told me he was expecting his first child next month. A former coworker messaged me, “have you been hacked?” Another person I poked had a more succinct reaction: “Reported.”
This is exactly what I want out of a social media interaction. I’m desperately lonely but too exhausted to have a meaningful conversation with someone; I just want to let them know, Hey, I’m still here. Hi. I want a low-effort way of connecting with another human.
It’s hard to know what social media is right now. Twitter has devolved into a battlefield of roving clans of misery puppeteered by a 51-year-old cosplayer. TikTok is a psy-op from the Chinese government to convince me to eat raw liver and a good place for gang-stalking people with bad dating habits. Instagram is a crummier version of that. Snapchat is great for cyst-popping videos, but not very useful if your friend group isn’t mostly teenagers. Facebook was once a place for your aunt to wish you happy birthday, but now it’s better suited to sharing tips on taking horse dewormer. BeReal could be that fun, low-lift way of connecting with friends, but the daily ⚠️ prompts are starting to feel like a chore.
Frankly, what do you have left but to just poke someone? ●