Mobile gadgets take art of wooing to new, high-tech level
(AP) -- On her way home from London, Sara
Gartman checked her cell phone and saw the text message from a friend she'd just left: "if we had met earlier and u werent
leaving ..." read the line he'd tapped in from his own cell phone.
So much for the old-fashioned love note. In the
age of wireless communication, flirting has gone mobile via such devices as cell phones and two-way pagers.
say things they don't normally say over the phone and especially in person. I think you're more uninhibited," says Gartman,
a senior at Brandeis University in suburban Boston. She spent last semester studying in Britain, where text messaging is
already wildly popular.
This high-tech flirting -- often punctuated with smiley-faced and winking "emoticons" -- has
its roots in e-mail and instant messaging, the private, online conversation done in real time and, most often, by computer.
As technology improves and expands, however, flirts are increasingly punching in messages on their cell phone key
pads. Still others use PDAs (personal digital assistants, such as Handsprings and Palm Pilots) to make another kind of PDA --
a public display of affection.
Send a smile
Peter Shankman, a 30-year-old New Yorker, has landed more than one
date that way.
It started when he saw a woman on a plane who seemed stressed as she struggled with her own PDA. Using
a function made possible by infrared light, he beamed the word "smile" from his Handspring to her device.
laughed and said, 'Thanks,' -- and I thought 'Why not keep it as a regular thing?'" says Shankman, who travels often in
his role as CEO of the Geek Factory, a public relations and marketing firm.
Now he stays in touch with his current
girlfriend with a two-way pager, a small hand-held device that allows him to send text messages to another pager or even to
"Hey, thinking about u," he types in as he waits for flights. Moments later, his girlfriend
replies: "Hey, thinking about u 2."
Short message service -- known as SMS and done via cell phones and pagers like
Shankman's -- is generally limited to 160 characters. So abbreviations are common in a service that is just now catching on
in the United States.
Short and sweet
If a British survey is any indication, flirting will soon rank among
Americans' favorite reasons to send text messages.
The survey, commissioned last year by London-based Velocity
Communications, found that just over 40 percent of those surveyed said "yes" when asked, "Have you ever sent a text message
to tell someone that you fancy them?" Among the more popular lines to message: "Fancy a drink?"
More than 80 percent
of respondents also said they would use text messaging to stay in touch with someone after a date.
Text messaging is
so big in Britain that Web sites dedicated to SMS poetry -- including love poems -- are popping up.
such as CosmicCupid.com, provide services allowing admirers to remain secret, or message people they don't know -- one of
the few ways to message strangers by cell because you generally need their phone number to do so.
Still others are
even developing "virtual girlfriend/boyfriend" services that allow cell phone users to exchange text messages with an
imaginary love interest.
Critics: Quick messages too tempting
The trend toward using cell phones, pagers and PDAs
-- common workplace tools -- for flirting has some a little worried.
Mari Florence, author of "Sex at Work:
Attraction, Orientation, Harassment, Flirtation and Discrimination," says an increasing penchant for firing off quick
messages could make hitting on the wrong person too tempting.
"There's little hierarchy in the workplace anymore.
People work side by side; the lines are blurred," says Florence, who runs a small Los Angeles company that publishes pop
culture and travel books.
"Now everyone is wired -- everyone can be reached at any given time," she adds. "It
definitely blurs the lines even more."
For now, flirting by instant messaging and e-mail remains far more common
That's how Debra Mulkey, a senior at the University of Texas, kept in touch with her boyfriend in
Rhode Island until they broke up. "Although to be honest, I do my best flirting in person," she jokes.
That may be a
relief for those who prefer finding dates the tried-and-true way. But Shankman -- who says he's just as happy when he meets
women through friends or everyday conversation -- makes no apology.
"Any technology that allows people to communicate
is a good thing," he says. "I'm sure that when the cavemen hit women over the head, that was a form of flirting.
"Technology has just helped it evolve a bit."