Generation #Hashtag

As Ashlee Humphreys mentioned in our reading, a generation is defined as “a historically specific group of people who have experienced seminal historical events at a similar age” (pg. 118). When I think of historical, I think of drastic changes in the political climate or revolutions in our technological capabilities. However, as society rapidly changes and adapts with each generation, don’t social trends and viral media count as historical? When my generation has grandchildren, will the hashtag be considered a historical step in online communication?

I refer to current social media users as the hashtag generation because the hashtag is encompassed in just about all that we do on social platforms. This small but extremely powerful symbol originated back in 2007 “with a tweet by San Francisco techie and former Google developer Chris Messina. He wrote on Twitter, “How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”” (Brown). As with most content these days, it did not take long for this “pound” sign trend to carry over to Facebook, Instagram and even Snapchat. This symbol has now become apart of our generation’s basic vocabulary, both written and spoken aloud. To me, that seems like a pretty historical event.

As generation hashtag, we have become obsessed with this combination of two overlapping sets of parallel lines. As Chris Messina brilliantly predicted, this symbol would be a way for online users to group content together. Does this make the web smaller, as it forms tighter-knit communities within platforms? Or does it make the internet an even larger entity, expanding networks and opening topics for discussion?   We use the hashtag for three main reasons: to categorize our content, to join online communities, and simply because it feels like a natural way to end a post.

Categorizing content:

We use the hashtag to categorize content and bring similar ideas together. This is really where trending falls. When a lot of people are talking about the same thing on a platform, the platform recognizes it as a trend. This is very common during the election or other popular world events. As social media platforms gain more traction as a news source, a lot of users will turn to trending content for new viewpoints and information. The hashtag allows all of this information to be grouped together for the user to easily access and understand events in real time.

Recently, there have been protests and marches happening in light of the recent election and several of the initiatives our president plans to take. We could see everything happening around the Women’s March with the hashtag, #WomensMarch. With a search of this hashtag, a user is able to see all the aggregated content surrounding this event, from places and people all over the world (as seen below). This historical event will now be documented and archived using generation hashtag’s most prized symbol. The impact of this physical event can now live historically online long after the event is over.

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Joining online communities:

The hashtag also has a tremendous affordance of bringing communities together. As Humphreys discusses on page 116, “Homophily is the tendency for people to affiliate with others who are like them”. Generation hashtag does this by creating common phrases for the movements and causes that they are passionate about. We saw this happen with the tragic Orlando night club shooting. The hashtag #PrayForOrlando quickly circulated to bring the world together for those who lost a loved one, or for anyone emotionally affected. This hashtag built a support community in an online environment so that users could feel connected even through a technological screen.

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On a lighter scale, we can also see users using the hashtag to join “teams” such as the infamous blue and black or white and gold dress. When this viral dress hit the internet, users immediately hopped onto #TheDress debate…and took it very seriously. Users could simply not understand how others could disagree with the way they saw the dress.

 

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Giphy.com

 

It is natural:

Finally, generation hashtag uses the symbol because it almost feels abnormal to exclude one in a post.  I see hashtags on Snapchat, where the hashtag itself has no power to lead the user anywhere because it cannot be clicked. In this case, the hashtag is solely a visual component to a post, but users still incorporate this beloved symbol because #WhyNot. We even use the word in verbal communication, possibly poking fun at our obsession with the craze, hopefully on a less dramatic note than Jimmy Fallon.

 

jimmy-fallon

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Although we may not take it as far as Jimmy, I don’t blame Muriel McDonald for stating, “I’ll hear someone drop a hashtag into daily conversation in an ironic but not-so-ironic way, and I’ll think, hashtags are ruining the English language.” (Macdonald). The hashtag generation is not so much defined as a distinct age rage, but as a time in history when we have put so much emphasis on one symbol that has changed the way we communicate both online and in person.

Sources: 

Brown, Heather. “Good Question: How Did The Pound Sign Become A Hashtag?” WCCO CBS Minnesota. CBS, 7 Nov. 2013. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Humphreys, Ashlee. “Chapter 7.” Social Media: Enduring Principles. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 116-18. Print.

Macdonald, Muriel. “How #Hashtags Changed the Way We Talk.” TINT Blog. Disqus, 09 Sept. 2016. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. <https://www.tintup.com/blog/how-hashtags-changed-the-way-we-talk/&gt;.

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6 thoughts on “Generation #Hashtag

  1. You made an interesting point in this post when you asked the questions “Does this make the web smaller, as it forms tighter-knit communities within platforms? Or does it make the internet an even larger entity, expanding networks and opening topics for discussion?” in reference to the hashtag. I think I would argue that hashtags make the internet even larger, as hashtags expose us and connect us to other people and topics we may not normally interact with if it were not for the hashtag.

    Trending hashtags on Twitter and Facebook play a large part in this broadening of the internet’s community. When I log onto Facebook and Twitter, I sometimes see hashtags that are completely new and foreign to me. However, because so many people are talking about these topics, it makes me want to understand the subject that is making so many people talk. Often times, I even join in on the conversation, adding the hashtag to my own post, therefore further expanding this topic and adding my post to the thousands and opening yet another door that enables others to explore the hashtag and look at the topic just as I did. Your point of making tighter-knit communities within platforms is definitely true, but I think the sum of these communities make the internet overall a larger entity.

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  2. It’s interesting how you have called our attention to us being the hashtag generation. I think a lot of people in our age cohort have thought about our placement in history as really the first generation to grow up with technology, yet still have the childhood experience of playing outside without an iPad. I know I have had plenty of conversations with people who feel concerned about how much technology now runs our lives, and it made me think about those conversations when given the label of “hashtag generation.” Yet, I think we as users are beginning to harness and reign in some of that technological control by making it more productive; for a while, hashtags seemed to me to be fairly shallow and humorous. Now, hashtags are becoming more of a tool with social and political movements, and by grouping people together as you wrote. For me, that is a very important development and I am glad that you pointed it out.

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  3. I think that this is a very cool look at what hashtags do to language, and how our language evolves with our technological practices. I find myself using things like “lmk” and “lol” sometimes when in a real-life conversation, and it’s crazy to think how normal it feels to both myself and the person with whom I’m speaking. Hashtags definitely do create a sense of community, and they continue to grow because of exactly what you said: people want to find out what they mean, use it, and join that community. Super interesting blog post and points made!

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  4. First, I’d like to say, this is a very well written post! The way you sub-categorized it made it very easy to read. Though right now, it may feel silly to put the hashtag in the category of “historic,” I don’t think it really feels natural to call any contemporary item historic. I mean, sure, Martin Luther King Jr. probably knew that what he was doing was historic. But, I’ll bet Mozart, though he probably knew he was good at piano, didn’t realize he would make such a mark on history. So, with the hashtag, though it seems trivial to call it historic, we have to think of it in terms of what is progressing and changing things for today’s world. Technological advancements, as well as norms such as the hashtag, are definitely part of what marks our time.
    When hashtags first began being used, I remember using them a lot. Now, however, I think they are most useful for events like the Women’s March, as you’ve noted. For those events, it does really pull a group of people together and make it accessible and able to be experienced by such a wide group—even those who didn’t attend the event. However, when I see hashtags used on Instagram posts now, I see it as quite tacky. These hashtags are typically self-serving, attempting to get more views/likes/followers on their posts for the sake of becoming “Instagram famous.” People are always posting these huge conglomerations of hashtags at the end of their posts, most of which are so strange and unnecessary. Here’s an example I’ve just found on Instagram: #fashionblogger #fashion # fashionista #(camera symbol?) #glam #storytelling #jetset #letsgosomewhere #featured #featuredtoday #getpretty #editorial #traveldiaries #love #braids #pilotlife #fashiondiaries #slay
    Like, HUH?! Why in the world do you need all of those at the end of your post! Very silly, very unnecessary, but also part of the Instagram culture today.

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  5. You bring up a good point about how hashtags are used even when they do not direct an audience to a trend or larger community, like using hashtags in Snapchat or verbally such as the phrase “Hashtag Blessed”. The use of the hashtag constantly changes according to users. I remember when I first heard of “hashtag” I did not know what people meant until I learned it was synonymous with the “pound” button on the phone. Nowadays, the “generation” immediately recognizes the symbol as “hashtag” rather than “pound”. Just as the symbol changes the way we communicate, we change the meaning of the symbol for our communication. Though we do not “need” to use hashtags in Snapchat or verbally, it shows how inherent the symbol is for communication in our society.

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  6. Jenna,

    Thanks for your blog post. I completely agree we are generation hashtag. One thing that I find particularly interesting is how hashtags create an ongoing conversation in a virtual community, and using the hashtag can be a way to inset yourself into the conversation. I think it is interesting how people who want to learn more about a specific topic on a more person by person basis has the ability to click on a hashtag and see other people’s thoughts on the topic. Hashtags are great for campaigns, events, causes, etc. because it can trend, live online forever, and be kept in one place.

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