Friday, January 15, 2016

On the Subject of Hashtags

Oh, hashtags.  We have such a complicated relationship, you and I.  As a rule, Leonard tries to avoid them.  Hashtags, to the best of my understanding, are/were a way to categorize posts and things.  For instance, this post is marked with "labels," "social media," "hashtags," and "David Tennant," among other things.  (For the record, though, Blogger does not refer to them as hashtags; it says "labels.")

And I get that.  If I want to search for posts -- particularly on Twitter or Tumblr -- on a specific topic, tags are very useful.  I can find all the David Tennant fan fiction I could ever possibly want that way1.

But what about hashtags on posts on/in forums or social media platforms that don't really use that feature (read:  Facebook)?  And what about the hashtags we simply make up?  Is anyone really going to go searching for #thatmomentwhenItrippedinfrontofmyboss?  Or how about #sorrymythesisisshowing?  What is it we're doing with hashtags that we simply couldn't do with the text itself?

The last two examples -- hashtags we make up -- Leonard actively tries to avoid, on the principle that they defeat the purpose of a hashtag.  So why do we use them?  Is it like giving a subtitle to your post?  They are often funny, one-liners (or "one-phrasers"), something witty or clever or snarky, a rim shot or stinger to one's post (#askingforafriend and #sorrynotsorry are the only ones I can think of right now).  Sometimes they seem to be instructing the reader what to think or feel about that particular post.  So why use a hashtag to do that?  Why not use the text of the post itself?  I often stop myself when there is an itch to use a hashtag and ask, Why am I doing this?  What am I trying to accomplish?  If the post isn't funny without the hashtag, or if the reader does not come to the intended conclusion, then I'm doing something wrong in my writing.  (Usually2.)

Do hashtags in their current form accomplish something rhetorically or textually that we couldn't otherwise do?  These are the the things that keep Leonard up at night -- that, and acid reflux.  Please weigh in with your thoughts regarding hashtags.

1 Not really.  Maybe.  #AskingForAFriend
2 Or maybe you're just reading it wrong!  Leonard does sometimes give in to the hashtag temptation.  C'mon, the hashtag #DroidsMoisturize is funny!

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