What Doesn’t the #Hashtag Do?
Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, FourSquare, Vine—today, almost every social networking medium utilizes the hashtag. This pop culture icon has spread to other parts of media as well. The hashtag is used by businesses, news networks, schools, and in even more casual forums. In a consumer-driven, social media-fueled society, the exponential gain of the hashtag’s popularity suggests a shift in the values of society. Modern use of the hashtag reflects the interests of those with a thirst for technology in every aspect of life.
Before its use today, the “#” had several names: the pound sign, the number sign, or hash. The symbol was most likely found on telephones and was most commonly used to reach extensions of business associates once group offices became popular in the 1950s (Chang 1). The pound sign embodied the first step towards a technology-focused generation; this was before the iPhone, before the internet, before the social media. In 2007, the symbol was introduced as a way to connect “groups” (Messina) on the new social media website Twitter. As time passed, society shaped new and possibly improved generations: “Generation Y” and beyond. The young people of these generations are those whose priorities fall somewhere between “Tweeting” in line at the store and “Instagramming” their dinner. While they are a “young, smart, brash” community, they are also those “listening to iPods at their desk” (Armor 1). Previous generations may see said traits as negative characteristics of our young people, but being a technology-oriented people may mean a more informed people. The relevance of the hashtag serves to connect people by modern means of technology, streamlining news and information across barriers that seemed unsurpassable.
Hashtags are seen everywhere. The symbol is used casually like the popular Instagram tag “throwbackthursday” and for more serious matters like “NewtownShooting.” While originally to be used for the latter of the two, Twitter and Instagram’s young audience has transformed the hashtag into a more accessible tool. By simply clicking on the link created, the user is brought to others talking about the same thing, creating a sense of community. Not only does the use of the symbol play a role in the life of teens, but increasingly in adults as the tag is integrated into news programs and television networks. But what does this all mean? The hashtag has become something that is not just a reflection of its user’s thoughts, but a reflection of our youth’s focus. Trends shaped by very specific demographic—preteens, teenagers, young adults— these groups are the most focused on technology and media than ever before, particularly social media (Australia). As young people become more attached to the media, the media infiltrates every part of their life; hence the use of hashtags in television, websites, and mass marketing. High school students even testified to using it in their everyday vocabulary, proof that technology has become near all-consuming.
While use of the hashtag seems trivial, it reflects an idea much more paramount about our society, our youth in particular: importance of social media and technology. The expansive use of this now commonplace symbol serves to show that upcoming generations face a future enhanced by technology. Are people still able to step back and reflect on technology’s everyday influence, or does the hashtag represent that technology has become completely integrated into society?
Australian Federal Government, The. The Australian Communications and Media Authority . Trends in media use by children and young people: Generation M2 2009 (USA), and MCAF 2007 and CPCLA 2009 (Australia). Australia: , 2012. Web. <http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_312174>.
Armour, Stephanie. "Generation Y: The'yve arrived at work with a new attitude." USA Today 08 11 2005, n. pag. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2005-11-06-gen-y_x.htm>.
Chang, Hsia-Ching. "A new perspective on Twitter hashtag use: Diffusion of innovation theory ." Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 47.1 (2010): 1-4. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.
Chris Messina (chrismessina) “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” 23 August 2007, 12:25 p.m. Tweet.