Why are we humans so intent on controlling every little aspect of the world around us? So intent on imposing rules that we make up terms like “netiquette” (as if Emily Post weren’t, already, the first and last word on the subject of good manners). So intent on sucking the silliness out of everything…
Blame it on a lack of breakfast, this morning, but when I saw my friend Todd’s rant on #hashtags, it sparked a little of that rebellious spirit that’s been lurking within, biding its time, waiting to pounce.
My rebellious spirit is more playful than revolutionary, most days. I wonder, though, if a lot of us don’t have an inner social reformer seething below the surface, longing to either free the spirited masses and ride the wave of their energy to the moon and beyond, or to quell their rowdy, bad behavior so that civilized beings can enjoy a small concert, quietly, in the drawing room. I don’t know about you, but I have both, and they are constantly snarking at each other.
This, I think, explains why we are so prone to getting our knickers in a snit over little things – things that either do not matter much, in a cosmological sense, or things which we believe (rightly or wrongly) that we can control. Speaking from the deep end of the well of parental experience, I can only feel empathy for anyone who gets his knickers in a snit while waiting for a child to finish writing something they demanded he proofread immediately upon their finishing. The irritated-but-idle mind seeks diversions.
So what’s the deal with hashtags, anyway? I’m guessing that more pixels have been consumed in bemoaning their abuse than have been used up by the 5 millionth posting of a giraffe climbing another giraffe’s neck, or some obnoxiously looping animated gif of a kitten that was cute the first five times but now threatens to induce a seizure. Dear Lord, but the Internet is fertile ground for pointless ranting about nothing of import, isn’t it?
Ahh, but is it really pointless if it gives us joy and fodder for our blogs, in equal measure?
Of course not! This is one of the time-honored #traditions of the Internet, one which scientists have now traced back farther than the backyard fence of the 1950s, the gentlemen’s clubs of the late 1800s, the harems of Constantinople, and even farther (though their grant proposals have not proven much beyond a few contentious scribbles on a wall in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings).
History of the Hashtag
One pseudo-scientific chap who goes by the name of Biff claims he’s found a hieroglyphic representation of a hashtag in Tut’s tomb that reads, in part, #suckitintheunderworldimnotgoingtobewalledinhereforeternity. It was inscribed on a small obelisk and stuffed, forcibly, into the mouth of #Bastet.
Obviously quite pointless, given the likely fate of its author.
In modern times, the #hashtag was intended to democratize the indexing of the Web. To the purists and idealists, it was a beacon in the darkness of search engines strung up in the night by crawlerbots that people imagined, over time, to resemble #spidersoncrack. These webs were often skewed towards the highest bidders, and so came to resemble twisted representations of international currency symbols. The hashtags, once so incisive and scientifically precise as #anatomy or #sqlserver or #billgates now took on a life of their own, occasionally appearing to prefer battle with the crawlerbots of Google and Bing than to provide anything useful to the Internet community at large. Their weaponry at turns ironic and pointless, hashtags – like art – evolved over time and splintered into different styles and periods. And, like art, this left viewers bemused, baffled, belligerent, and sometimes downright bellicose.
But seldom is anyone ever shot over the perceived misuse of a hashtag. And so, as in the art world, it is mostly safe to let our inner #reformists and #revolutionaries have at it over hashtags, as symbols of and metaphors for all our woes in life – even, one might believe, the very downfall of civilization.