Shocking, isn’t it? Controversial? Yes. But it’s true.
I hate hashtags (and I am DELIGHTED that WordPress doesn’t recognize it as a word. I mean, WordPress also doesn’t recognize “WordPress” as a word, so it’s a small or possible even imaginary victory, but still).
Now, before you pull our your pointy lecturing finger, I concede that I get it. I understand how useful they are. They are community-builders, and that is why, almost every Saturday, I happily put aside my personal feelings and post pictures on the Instagram with the tags #jointhestory and #storygrams. If I had a cat, half my posts there would be tagged #catsofinstagram (it’s possible that said cat would probably also have his or her own Facebook page, so…grain of salt), because have you clicked on that hashtag? It will lead you to adorable and hilarious things. Hashtags are also essential when it comes to social media marketing. An added #amreading or #amwriting or #writing added to a link to a post will multiply traffic to said post. At least 75% (an estimate – and probably a conservative one) of my followers on Twitter, where all of my blog post links automatically go, found me via a hashtag. I have had people tell me that they followed me based on my frequent (if by frequent, one means once or twice a month) use of #idowhatiwant.
So I get it. I KNOW. And I will use them – sparingly – in the manner in which they were intended to be used. I will market myself on social media. I recognize self-promotion as a necessary
evil part of the getting-people-to-read process.
I still hate hashtags. They are the sole reason I was so slow to warm up to Twitter. And now, they’re friggin’ everywhere. I cannot escape them. Oh, Twitter – what hast thou wrought?!
First of all, they’re shady. They’re fake words pretending to be real words, and they promote laziness. I have the same disgruntled feelings about hashtags that I have about the use of “u” in place of “you” – or worse – “ur” in place of “you’re” or “your” (LEARN THE DIFFERENCE – IT’S NOT HARD. /mini-rant). It’s the chance to say one more thing without having to waste one of the precious 140 characters one is allowed on Twitter on a space. It’s also the chance to avoid editing and choosing one’s words wisely so that they will actually fit into a succinct, 140-character message. One thing that Twitter lets me practice is getting across my message in fewer words – a practice one might argue I desperately need. And I suspect other people would benefit from such practice, too. So here’s a challenge – if your initial draft is 154 characters, instead of copping out by using shortcuts, Hemingway that shit so that you can use real words and still get your point across.
Second, instead of helping the message, hashtags actually distract me from the person sending it. I have lost count of the times I have been scrolling through Instagram and see a large block of text under a beautiful picture taken by my friend Horatia (fake name – conglomerate prototype of multiple beloved friends). I say to myself, “Hey, self, let’s go see what gorgeous words Horatia has chosen to caption this stunning photograph,” only to discover upon first glance, that only five words of the caption actually came from my brilliant friend. The rest is a sea of hashtags pressuring me to go elsewhere and see other people’s pictures and words. And here’s the thing – if I gave a damn about those other pictures and words, I would be following the people who posted them. I’m not. I am, however, following Horatia because her pictures and her words are important to me. I specifically chose to follow her because what she has to say has struck a chord with me, and when I see her name, I get excited about what she has to offer. And that’s what I want to see.
And again – I get it. I understand that those hashtags are a way for other people to find her easily and see the glory of what Horatia has to offer the world. I support self-promotion, particularly for artists of all kinds and particularly for women, because we have been socialized to support others (particularly men) first and ourselves second (or third…or fiftieth…), and I’m all for breaking that ridiculous cycle. But if I see more content promotion than content creation, I will eventually lose interest in the content, no matter how much I love and respect the person as a friend.
Third, I find hashtags aesthetically unpleasant. I know – I’m an old woman. I mean, I’m not. At all. I’m 39, which puts me in what Jill Conner Browne of Sweet Potato Queens fame (point of reference – for those who have ever enjoyed my margaritas, she’s where I got the recipe) terms the larval stage of my development as a human. But as someone who has vivid, adult-ish memories of life and reading before the Internet (point of reference – Google.com was registered as a domain name three months before I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree), in Internet terms, I am a dinosaur. And like all damn kids who need to get off my lawn, the Internet likes to screw with my expectations of how things are to be capitalized and spaced. In this regard, hashtags are a visual nightmare. I recognize that there’s probably some legitimate, computer-codey reason why the spaces need to be left out to create a link. But I need hashtags to evolve linguistically, because I also can’t help but notice that proper computer code stays backstage, out of sight, so as not to ruin the effect of the presentation. Take note, hashtags.
And finally, let’s call hashtags what they are – advertising.They are the billboards of the intrawebs. And like billboards, they are effective. They are great at directing attention to a specific corner of a saturated market. But for those of us who are acutely aware of and thus hypersensitive to the CONSTANT bombardment of people trying to sell us something, hashtags – like billboards – can really ruin the landscape. If this post hasn’t tipped you off, let me go ahead and spell it out – I am easily overstimulated. The Las Vegas Strip and Disney World? Not so much examples of my ideal vacation spot as they are examples of what I imagine Hell must be like. And I am not alone. We might be the minority, but for those of us hindered by this affliction, repeat advertising (and the nature of hashtags is inherently repetitive) actually has the exact opposite of the intended effect. It all becomes noise, and we tend to go to great lengths to shut out noise.
So friends – please – do this old curmudgeon a favor – use hashtags, but use them sparingly.I want to hear what you have to say. I’m probably even interested in buying what you’re selling. I will do both these things willingly. You don’t have to kick my cane out from under me and steal my purse.