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MILLIONS of computer-users around the planet are now communicating with each other through Facebook, which is a sort of on-screen school yearbook with a page for every person on earth.
That's fine. But what is not fine is that its bizarre language and conventions are starting to creep into real life. "I poked you. Will you friend me?" someone said to me the other day.
This is worrying. Here's how relationships in the future will develop as Facebook becomes increasingly influential.
Boy meets girl. Boy pokes girl. "Ow! What did you do that for?" she complains.
"It is how relationships start according to Facebook," says the boy, whose name is Peter Lee. "Now you have to poke me back."
"What if I don't want to?" says the girl, whose name is Meena Das.
"If you do, you are allowed to look at my profile," he replies.
Curious, she stabs her finger into his shoulder. He immediately turns to stand at a right angle to her so she can see the side of his face. "You can now look at my profile."
"No. Poking is the first stage of a relationship. Studying a person's profile is the second."
"And the third?"
He pulls out two large pieces of blank white card from an art portfolio bag. "Stage three is to write on each other's walls."
"Do we write poetry? Or do some sort of art?"
Peter shakes his head. "Nah. We just write inane phrases or we forward ancient jokes."
She watches to see if he writes anything clever or witty, but he just writes words she doesn't understand: "Whassup? LOL."
Then he walks purposefully across the road. She follows. They enter the offices of an outdoor advertising company. He leases electronic billboards on top of a building for them both.
"What are we doing this for?"
"Stage four. Facebook requires us to have a public answer at all times for a question, which is asked automatically: 'What are you doing right now?' The answer must be in the third person."
He types sentences, which appear on the billboard above them: "Peter Lee is typing this sentence. Peter Lee feels the need to go to the toilet. Peter Lee is in the toilet."
He goes to the toilet.
Two minutes later, he emerges to find that the girl is adjusting her make-up. He starts tapping on the keyboard that operates her electronic billboard. "Meena Das has updated her profile," he writes.
Meena is impatient. "Can't we do normal boy-girl stuff, like go on dates and stuff? You give me your phone number and I'll give you mine."
Peter shakes his head. "No. Guidelines recommend we don't exchange personal details. It is not good to get too close to other users you meet through the Facebook friend system. Goodbye."
She notices that he is walking away with his finger in front of him. "What are you doing?"
"I am going to go and poke all your friends."
She's outraged. "You can't do that. They're my friends."
"Yes, I can. Now I'm in your network, your friends are my friends too."
Meena stamps her foot. "Loads of shallow acquaintanceships and inane games, but no real relationships or commitment. This Facebook thing was started by boys, wasn't it?" she says.
"Yes," says Peter. "How did you guess?"
If you have to go to Facebook, at least visit our columnist's page: www.facebook.com.