Let's talk about txt baby, let's talk about U & me

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The Independent Online

The bar is packed with well-groomed young professionals. The lights are down, the music system is pumping, the drinks are flowing: perfect conditions to hunt for that elusive Mr or Ms Right. People are being chatted up all over the room – but not a word is spoken. Cheesy come-ons and acid put-downs are being batted backwards and forwards by text message.

The bar is packed with well-groomed young professionals. The lights are down, the music system is pumping, the drinks are flowing: perfect conditions to hunt for that elusive Mr or Ms Right. People are being chatted up all over the room – but not a word is spoken. Cheesy come-ons and acid put-downs are being batted backwards and forwards by text message.

Embargo, a trendy bar-cum-nightclub on the King's Road, west London, is playing host to the capital's latest dating phenomenon: text flirting.

As phones beep and vibrate around the bar, texters look up, scanning the shirts and tops around them for the identity of the latest person to make a move. Each has registered with a central computer, replacing their phone number with a two-digit code that is then displayed prominently somewhere on their person. Text messages, no longer than 160 characters each, are relayed from phone to phone through the computer, thus protecting the senders' identities – if not their phone bills.

"U R a babe" number 3 tells strapping number 22, before trying the same line on number 28. Meanwhile, 22 has his eye on somebody else: blonde number 18 in the corner, wearing a tight little black top. "Do U want to eat my cheese?" he asks, but receives short shrift: "Dream on Cheesemeister."

Time2Flirt, the name of this phenomenon, was the brainchild of Richard Boyask, a 33-year-old former internet executive. "It started off as a drunken idea, but we've already had one engagement as a result of it," Boyask said. "It's particularly female-friendly because it's safe and it's anonymous. You don't have to give out your mobile number – unless you want to."

Orange estimates that more than 70 per cent of the country's population now have access to SMS text messaging, and the Mobile Data Association reports that December saw a record 1.3bn messages sent across the UK's four leading networks. In total, 12bn text messages were sent via the four providers in 2001.

The Po Na Na chain, to which Embargo belongs, is already thinking of introducing the concept to more of its 250 venues nationwide.

Two single women enjoying the experience in Embargo last week were Emily Thompson, 27, a freelance PR consultant, and Samantha Morgan, 36, an environmental campaigner, both from London.

"Mystery is a big part of the appeal," said Emily, typing another message. "At the moment I'm texting somebody I haven't seen yet. Hmmm, actually, maybe that's a bad idea."

"We've had some nice messages, some cheesy ones, and some that are just plain vulgar," Samantha said.

On the other side of the bar, Simon Darling, 30, an IT manager, was texting the same message to three women. "It's quite surprising how interesting this is," he grinned. "You end up being a real social butterfly – having disjointed conversations and forgetting what you said to who."

"It's definitely titillating," agreed his friend Simon Steward, 34. "It complements booze really well – it's all about social lubrication.

"With anonymity comes irresponsibility. If I wasn't known, I think I'd be quite filthy, but I have to wear my number."

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