THE BLOG

Hashtag Problems

05/06/2013 13:40 BST | Updated 03/08/2013 10:12 BST

There has been no greater cultural phenomenon in the last couple of years than the hashtag. Originally imagined as a means of easy categorisation to better aid twitter's search function, the hashtag has since taken on a life of its own, often as a form of cultural shorthand, or an awkward punch line, the internet's version of the TV catch phrase (Writing an article on the cultural implications of a social media function? #FirstWorldProblems).

As its use across media continues to grow, the hashtag is having an impact on the way we live. Social media has been an integral part of the maturation process for my generation, immersion in its endless networks and opportunities for gratification is a facet of our every day lives. The proliferation of the hashtag is indicative of the way social media has trained us to classify and categorise our life as we live it.

The ability to notify followers and friends about anything and everything has cultivated a culture of oversharing in my generation, nullifying the evaluation process between experiencing something and whether to tell others about this experience. The rise of the hashtag has added a further twist to this impulse, to share and to qualify the significance of this experience in a greater context, either in simple terms, giving broader significance to an otherwise mundane thought, or often as part of an on-going joke narrative, such as the aforementioned "first world problems".

The hashtag's position in mainstream culture has been solidified to such an extent that it is now positioned in the corners of terrestrial television programs - that last bastion of institutional power in an era of media democracy. Its use on major news broadcasts still jars, but shows no signs of slowing.

The hashtag has also wormed its way into the lexicon of this generation, echoing the earlier rise of the phrase "LOL". Though many who use it in speech would claim that they're doing so ironically, the way this trains our brains to think in terms of hashtags is a worrying trend. It speaks to this need to qualify our thoughts in wider terms, adding an often-needless layer of subtext to the text that is life.

The wider ramifications of this are troubling. Rather than simply living in the moment, the hashtagging of our culture is training us to be looking at things in retrospect at all times. Perhaps this would be a helpful skill, if it were one garnered alongside some sort of critical understanding. The potential for self-betterment in this is quite astonishing, to reflexively understand an experience in context with the rest of your life and those around you would be a fantastic achievement.

Unfortunately, the hashtag's rise seems only to speak to a form of lowest common denominator in popular culture, a yearning to fit in and qualify something alongside pre-existing movements rather than attempt to construct new streams of thought.