IT USED TO be that you dated and then got laid. Now you get laid and then you date. Or so I learned reading a

New York Times

article last weekend.

That cheering you hear is young men rejoicing. Me? I attribute this change to technology and I see downsides, and not just because I'm too married to partake.

First, the background: "The paradigm has shifted," wrote Times op-ed contributor Charles Blow (no pun intended) last weekend. "Dating is dated. Hooking up is here to stay."

"For those over 30 years old: hooking up is a casual sexual encounter with no expectation of future emotional commitment. Think of it as a one-night stand with someone you know," Blow clarified. He then detailed his discussion on the subject with Kathleen Bogle, a La Salle University professor and author of "Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus."

I wanted to know more, so I tracked down Bogle. Are awkward dates at the bowling alley, movie theater or Italian restaurant now things of the past?

Not quite. High-school and college kids still go out for dinner and a movie, Bogle explained. They just do it once they're already in a relationship. "It's a reversal of the old system. You know, you used to date someone and of course people were interested in sex. But it was the idea that dating might lead to something sexual happening. And now with the hookup culture, it's the reverse." What it means is that most kids are going out to bars and parties with casual plans to possibly run into a potential hookup. An encounter - one not verbalized like "asking someone out" has always been - might result in anything from kissing to sex.

But this much is certain: Less and less does it entail any formal planning or traditional dates.

I wasn't surprised to learn that most guys are happy playing by the rules of the hookup.  After all, they're spending less time planning dates and less money taking girls out.

No doubt they're glad to fast-forward to the good parts. But I think they're even happier to put off the social discomforts that often arise through dating.

Who can forget the nervousness of initiating a date? Planning what to do. Rehearsing your rap. Then anxiously dialing the telephone to make the bid.  The concern for making small talk if one of her parents answers. (I actually made notes diagramming the possible outcomes and my plan of attack.)

Maybe you'd be blown off. So how to handle yourself the next time you saw her required some social navigation.

Then again, maybe she'd say yes. Which invited a new set of predicaments: What to wear. How much cologne to apply. The walk to the door. Meeting the parents. Open the car door. Walk her up to the house at the end of the night?

Today all those issues are delayed until after the hookup. I wasn't surprised to learn that many women are less satisfied with such arrangements than the guys.

So what's behind the shift? I think it's the rise of technology - cell phones, computers, instant messenger and Facebook - more apt to produce booty calls than boyfriends and girlfriends.

Think about it: Today kids make their plans on Facebook. They confer via text message and head out in groups. If they really want to hang out or get to know someone, the effort begins via text, IM or e-mail.

Sure, it's convenient. And I bet avoiding a face-to-face encounter or a phone call to her parents' house saves a couple of broken hearts and salvages some hurt feelings.

But I wonder if the technology at co-eds' fingertips is stamping out the social graces and manners their parents picked up naturally by dating. I've long lamented the lost arts of letter-writing and small talk, and I think kids are missing out when they pass up footsie for the chance at an inside-the-park home run right off the bat.

After all, they didn't call it "going steady" for nothing. *

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.mastalk.com.