In an editorial published yesterday morning, The Verge writer Russell Brandom posed the question, “Who owns the hashtag?” (Coincidentally enough, “Who Owns the Hashtag?” is also the title of his column). In his column, Brandom discusses the hashtag’s evolution from a Twitter invention to an Internet phenomenon that spans a wide variety of social networking platforms. Initially coined by Chris Messina in August 2007, the hashtag was an easy way for Twitter users to organize the topics of their conversations. It has since spread to social networks such as Instagram and Tumblr, bringing its remarkably simple and powerful organizing capabilities along with it.
In his column, Brandom calls the hashtag a “powerful rhetorical device — not quite part of the conversation, but hovering above it like a file name.” I can’t help but agree with him. The hashtag is used almost everywhere — from television advertising, as Brandom notes at the beginning of his column, to Facebook, where it serves no practical purpose.
Outside the confines of a single social network, the hashtag prompts people to conversation by directing their attention not to what is actually being said but to what’s being talked about. It’s an open door, encouraging users to engage in the conversation.
However, I can’t help but feel that Brandom is limiting the hashtag’s sphere of influence to the Internet. The hashtag is, unquestionably, a convenient organizational tool with far-reaching online implications. But, over the past few years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend developing (in the real world, that is) amongst the most avid Internet-using demographic — my own.
The hashtag is no longer limited to online social media. It’s not just a way to organize tweets on a certain topic. It has infiltrated the vernacular of my generation as a way to enhance everyday conversation in much the same way it enhanced Twitter.
Social media has become so commonplace that the hashtag’s IRL iteration has gone almost completely unnoticed. But think back to the last time you were talking about one of the many inconveniences that pop up in our daily lives (for the sake of this example, let’s say it was an especially heinous wait at the DUC package center) and somebody said, to the amusement of you and your friends, “Hashtag Emory problems!” It’s true, isn’t it? The package center can be notoriously busy and it’s a problem that every Emory student has to deal with once in a while.
The hashtag has taken up residence in everyday conversation as a way to subconsciously categorize all of life’s little quirks and inconveniences. At times, it can be a coping mechanism, a way to deal with the trivial, sometimes overwhelming issues that we face on a day-to-day basis. It’s usually sarcastic, an ironic overgeneralization to which everyone can respond, “That’s so true!”
There’s no way to search real-life hashtags, but does it matter? If the hashtag is good (and by “good,” I mean relatable), it’ll stick around for a while as an inside joke that only you and your friends will understand.
There’s a hashtag for every conceivable situation that a person can encounter — mostly because anything can be a hashtag in the right context. One of my personal favorites, perhaps the most applicable to my daily life, is “#fratlyf.” It’s a sarcastic way of glamorizing all of the ridiculous situations that come with living in a fraternity house.
Whiskey bottle in the shower? #fratlyf. Pledges in the room when you’re trying to do homework? #fratlyf.
So what does this mean for our social lives? Well, it could be nothing — just another fad that will fade away as the next big “thing” takes the stage. Or it could be the start of an entirely new way of relating to each other and the world around us. At this point, it’s too early to tell. Will the hashtag stick around long enough to find out? Brandom seems to think so. “The hashtag seems on track to live just as long [as the @ symbol], and outlive just as many platforms. Even if Twitter collapses, there’ll still be a place to say #RIP.”
Editorials Editor Nicholas Bradley is a College sophomore from Skillman, N.J.