It used to be that all the information you needed to make your loved ones happy during the holidays were the names of Santa’s reindeer, the P.O. Box for the North Pole, a carton of milk in the fridge, and a plate of cookies. An optional glass of eggnog and a candy cane earned bonus points. On the business side, you sent holiday cards to friends and associates, and maybe placed an extra ad in the paper to attract customers. Throw in a spritz of tinsel, add jingle bells to the door, and call it good. Nowadays life is more complicated. If you want to get your point across to gazillions of people and have happy holidays, you have to use a hashtag. Several, if you’d like your business to succeed.
The hashtag was envisioned as a nimble tool to lasso customers, drive them to your website, and impress them with your brand.
While it sounds a bit like a cattle drive, the true purpose of a hashtag is to sort and classify. Think of it as a library card catalog, but less bulky. If you’ve got spot on verbiage, once you’ve got buyers frothing with excitement that they have found you, a hashtag promises to skyrocket sales, magnify your online presence, and allow you to trounce the competition. It’s all conducted in a friendly, metadata sort of spirit. Let’s order a box of pre-decorated Christmas cookies, and do a virtual fist bump to that.
But here’s the rub: anyone who’s in the know is using precisely the same hashtags, resulting in an avalanche of the exact same words popping up on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and on the Great Indoor Mall of the Planet, Google. Since I last checked in on Twitter a few hours ago, my feed has grown from two new tweets to 3,072, and it continues to explode exponentially with well-considered hashtags relating to what people think I should purchase to make the #holidays #happy. One business growth website recommends 106 Hashtags for the Holiday Season, guaranteeing that if a merchant liberally sprinkles a few #Christmas, #Presents, and #HolidaySavings tags into their Tweets, retirement and a life of leisure thanks to the goldmine of wealth customers will lay on the virtual doorstep is at their fingertips. Leisure is relative. It will only last until the #AfterChristmas sales season gets in gear at 12:01 a.m. on December 26th.
Even if we did stop and read the monstrous time suck that is Twitter, this method of brain vacuuming could promote worry that communications longer than 140 characters are endangered. But, don’t give up hope yet. While the hashtag, with all its generic simplicity, is one of man’s better attempts to get his point across over the millennia, this method of communication isn’t complex enough to last.
Humans do not want to make language too easy. It makes us feel stupid. We prefer to remain mysterious and somewhat oblique about what we have to say.
Consider some of the types of communication that have real staying power.
- Cave paintings: we’re not exactly sure what prehistoric man was trying to convey, but it’s apparent that the figural images of animals, humans, and handprints were more than wall art purchased at a primitive version of the Amazon website
- Egyptian hieroglyphs: characterized by writing in pictures, we are drawn to interpret what the ancient ones were communicating to each another. The Rosetta Stone provided a key to the past with script carved out in Ancient Egyptian, Demotic, and Ancient Greek, and yet, we still like to figure out the words for ourselves when visiting the mummies at the museum.
- The venerable bard’s plays are still sellouts 400 years after William Shakespeare’s death, but how many of us don’t get a bit glazy eyed when Richard III waxes long in the soliloquy that begins, “Now is the winter of our discontent — ” We listen raptly, and try to follow along, but somehow, the beauty of the poet’s words become lost when we attempt to translate them. And that’s why we keep buying tickets to his plays.
- Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are the stuff of legend and the bane of high school English seniors. If we can conquer the literary masterpiece, and wrap our Twenty-first century wordsmarts around language written nearly seven hundred years ago, then “gladly wold he learn, and gladly tech.” Seeking light in the darkness of the Middle Ages is to find illumination of the human mystery. It has to be good if people are still talking about it, right?
- Lewis Carroll wove magic into his tale of the curious Alice who misplaced her steps and fell down a hole into another world, a place where animals lectured and eggs on steroids explained the lop ended nature of portmanteaus. His characters defined with logistical assurance such jumbled words as slithy, curiouser, and mimsy, words which we might mimic today, though never with full grasp of the meaning. But I’ll bet you’ve never stumbled upon #curiouser, and if you did, would it lead you to buy a new pair of shoes?
- Braille, the language invented by the blind to lead the blind, thrives even with computers that read aloud. Few of us know how to read the system of bumps on paper, making it a select method of communication. That’s what makes it so interesting.
- R2D2, the generally unintelligible Star Wars astromech droid, bleeps in Binary language. His owner, Luke Skywalker, apparently understands what the robot is saying, at least in a pet-ownership sort of way. We also want to understand what Artoo is telling us, because he’s our buddy and he doesn’t kill anybody. Not ever.
- Lassie, and by association, my collies Mopsy and Flopsy: my dogs bark a lot. According to my neighbors, they bark all day long. It’s not true. We spend plenty of quality time interpreting whines, moans, grunts, groans, and body language. We have deep soul-searching conversations by looking silently into each other’s eyes. A dog is man’s best friend, probably because we aren’t quite sure what she’s telling us.
The take-away? Don’t worry too much about peppering your texts with hashtags. As a much too simplistic communication tool, they’re not going to last forever.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.