What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

09 April 2013

Guest Post: H is for Hashtag

Sometimes I have guest bloggers. It's fun for me. Today's guest introduces himself, so apart from mentioning he's a former classmate at UT, I won't give any more details.

Hello, my name is Bill Hill. To-day I am the guest blogger for Cheekyness, Incorporated.
I suppose it is best to say a few things about myself before I begin. To give a quick picture then, I am a senior at UT Austin, majoring in English & minoring in Communication. I am a scholar of Twitter studies and a Coca-Cola aficionado, oftentimes a poet and musician and filmmaker, a high self-monitor, dangerously deep thinker, people-lover, extrovert & social chameleon. & that is a little about me.
Usually I write on Xanga, the blog website that the dinosaurs used. You can visit my Xanga if you would like, where I spend my time recounting anecdotes, making analogies, pondering human phenomena and composing anonymous second-person messages.

& now, a few words on hashtags.
No I am not literally 'a scholar of Twitter studies,' only what I meant was, I adore Twitter.

When it comes to hashtags, I want to encourage people to push the envelope. Hashtags have certainly evolved ever since they first appeared, and below is a general outline of their evolution:

1. 'Here comes Richard Gere with the envelope. #oscars'
                This is the functional use of the hashtag. It is, essentially, the reason the hashtag was created. If you click on the hashtag for the Richard Gere tweet, you'll be taken to a categorized list of other Tweets, all of which relate to the Oscars. Then you can keep up with Richard Gere & with his envelope, & know about all the other things happening at the ceremony. The hashtag lumps together all those Tweets & lets you observe them at once, in Real time. One hundred Percent functional.

2. 'I haven't done my Latin translation for class yet. #lazy'
                Is this functional in the conventional sense? No, not at all. You wouldn't seriously suppose that someone's going to click on the hashtag  '#lazy' and look for all the Tweets about laziness, would you? No, that isn't why 'lazy' is hashtagged. It isn't to categorize Tweets, it's to make a point. It's to suggest a make-believe world in which Laziness is something like a Live Event, a world in which mundane topics & emotions are being followed by millions of internet users. Just a gimmick, do you know what I mean? Essentially this Tweet takes the concept of laziness & views it through a Twitter-coloured filter. Somewhat like a poet using the mechanics of language to express an emotion, Twitter mechanics are only the Tools through which a sentiment like Laziness can be conveyed.

Now is a tool a good thing or a bad thing?
You are right it is neither.
A knife is a tool. Is a knife a good thing or a bad thing? Well I am afraid it depends. As one of my favourite Professors once described to us, a knife is a wonderful thing if you would like to Cut up a steak. Only if somebody runs up to you on the street and they are screaming & carrying a giant cleaver, I doubt very much that any of you would say 'That is one heck of a knife.'
Twitter mechanics are Tools also. & they are neither good nor bad. It all depends upon how they are used & what they are trying to accomplish. Let's go to Step Three in the evolution, which shows, in my opinion, a Dreadful use of Twitter mechanics.

Below is a representation of an actual Tweet I have seen. The Tweeter will not be named, & some words have been changed so that hopefully you cannot Google it & find them. This person, however, was about to move away to California:

3. 'This could be the last time I see rain in July. #doesitraininthebayarea?'
                 . . . What. No seriously, what the devil. What are you doing? You can't just take some random whimsy you had and try & stuff it into a Twitter-shaped filter. I'll be honest, I never thought that hashtags like '#lazy' were especially clever, only at least they understood how far the Twitter tools could bend. This, though? What are you doing? You're shoving a complete sentence (and a question no less?) into a single hashtag? That isn't ever how hashtags worked, not even by a long shot. There isn't any consciousness of the medium. It's like trying to carve Mount Rushmore with nothing but a plastic kitchen knife. You're using the wrong tool, or at the very least you are using a tool to create an implausible effect, and I do not think it works.

Some might argue that the Tweeter was doing it deliberately, that 'doesitraininthebayarea' was an attempted caricature of hashtags. If so, my problem is that it wasn't clear enough. In fact it was so unclear that it was kind of a disaster. Think of a virtuosic musician coming onto a stage for a performance. If they start by playing a few horrendous, childish-sounding notes with comically awful tone quality, the audience is likely to laugh, understanding that the Virtuoso is quite a few steps beyond Awful. If the musician, however, were to hit some mediocre grey area between Great & Awful, then the audience wouldn't laugh, I don't think. They would likely be uncomfortable. And that is the problem with hashtags like 'doesitraininthebayarea.' It's an abominable use of the tool & it seems that it isn't being done deliberately. The room is full of cricket chirps as we try & figure out whether someone could really be that inept.

The solution is, make very deliberate caricatures. Don't leave any room for doubt. If I saw a bunch of people seriously trying to carve Mount Rushmore with plastic knives, I might make a Joke out of it by using plastic knives to do everything. That, you see, is the fourth step of hashtag evolution. Get deliberate & get meta; don't use Twitter mechanics to express your thoughts, use Twitter mechanics to highlight Twitter mechanics:

4. 'Anyone want to go to Whataburger with me? #ZaynHasTheVoiceOfAnAngel'
                This time there isn't any grey area. Rather than trying to fit your feelings into the filter, you're blowing the filter wide open. Suddenly the idea of the hashtag doesn't make any sense. The tool is exploited. And the chaos and senselessness of Twitter users everywhere is vomited back before their eyes. Just as '#lazy' is a play on Twitter's functional nature, '#ZaynHasTheVoiceOfAnAngel' is a play on the now-convoluted nature of hashtags. In the end, no artist should be unfamiliar with his or her medium. Hang a lantern on every oddity.

Hey, look, I managed to squeeze in a grad school thing when I went to get this screen grab of Bill's tweet. (Su composed this caption, in case you couldn't tell.)
This is the beauty of Twitter. It leaves you the freedom to tamper with the medium, unlike Facebook, which is so very meticulous & meddlesome that one can barely toy with its ironclad mechanics. Twitter is more libertarian, & it is simply too ridiculous to leave unmocked. It's a whirlpool of hashtags & photos and blue letters, website links and retweets and Mentions. I would encourage us to try & bend the system a little; Twist the hashtags, Mention irrelevant celebrities, retweet Useless material & post extraneous photos. If a website takes itself too seriously then I am afraid it will become the next Wikipedia: boring and uptight & robotic. On a playground like Twitter, not every law needs to be followed to the very letter. For every purposeful jumbling of hashtags, therefore, I think we ought to contribute some nonsense. And those are my words for to-day.

-Bill
(@MrBillHill)

2 comments:

Chadwick said...

1) Dangerously deep thinker, people-lover, extrovert & social chameleon: we should spend more time together, preferably where we can both blend into a background that will make us look cool.

2) Whirlpool of hashtags & photos and blue letters, website links and retweets and mentions: much like the mind of a teenager. ;)

3) Wikipedia: boring and uptight & robotic -- I don't know, I think it is pretty useful for quick references (if the writer of the article bothered to have any), since it isn't supposed to be an Wikiopinion. ;)

Mary Kirkland said...

Thanks for the informative post.

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