A craze du jour for the Facebook and Twitter crowd, featured in a prominent article in The Miami Herald, describes how the planking phenomenon — positioning yourself as rigidly as a wooden board face down in all kinds of places, the more unusual the better — has hit the streets of South Florida. (The point is to upload pictures of your exploits for sharing with other “plankers” across the Internet.)

Intrigued by this idea of social networking gone physical in public spaces, I found that planking (which caught fire over the last couple of years) may already be passé, with other offshoots like owling (left, crouching in the form of the night creature), teapotting  (posing with one hand on hip, other in the air, like a spout), and batting (below, hanging upside down like a bat and folding the arms in a v-shape on the waist) coming up the rear. And let’s not forget cone-ing (funny video here) — buying an ice-cream cone in a drive-thru and grabbing it by the wrong end, eliciting a predictably startled response from the provider. (Punked, with a taste of vanilla.)

It brings to mind how every decade seems to create its own set of faddish adventures, be it goldfish swallowing, flagpole sitting, or the hula-hooping of the last century. (Actually, 1920s flagpole sitting is remarkably similar to 2011’s owling.) In the case of planking, one psychologist says that young men use it to establish their place in the male hierarchy, and to impress and attract the opposite sex; but just as many women do it too, which makes me guess that these rituals provide some sort of communal outlet for distraction from the difficulties of trying times, a form of societal escapism that reinvents itself in a never-ending cycle.

As for this year’s choices, I think I’ll stick to planking – in bed.

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