Columnist baffled by new ways to connect

Norman Knight
For the Daily Journal

I had a simple question: What the heck is a “hashtag?”

I constantly run across the term as I am reading news stories or looking at print advertising. I hear serious speakers and comedians, TV talking heads and celebrities of all stripe say “hashtag” this and “hashtag” that and act as if it is something everybody understands.

I feel clueless, out of the loop (a common situation for me these days). So I did what one should logically do when one has a question pertaining to the technological landscape, I asked a young person.

You know the hashtag symbol, right? The crisscross lines that look like a little tic-tac-toe board. It is on the right side of the bottom row on your phone keypad. At one time, we called it a “number sign” or a “pound sign,” and I guess it still symbolizes those things.

But now it is also a “hashtag.” Fine. A new additional meaning for an old symbol. I have no problem with new meanings, that’s one way languages evolve.

But my inquiring mind still wanted to know: Why is it necessary to say/write “#NeverTrump” or “#GOP” instead of just “I think Trump should never be President” or “I stand with the Republican party”? Or in a less political vein, why ““#sunsets” instead of “Here is a pretty picture I took of the sun going down.”? Specifically, what is the purpose of the tic-tac-toe board at the beginning?

I assumed it had something to do with social media (Ah, yes, social media. Another area where in this microwave world, I am still rubbing two sticks together), but beyond that I needed help.

I asked the guy who cuts my hair if he knew about hashtags. He didn’t really but thought the young stylist in the chair across from his might be able to help. She was a big help.

She explained that it is a way to connect people. The hash mark in front of your words or photos (no spaces) is like a key to a door which will link you with others who have an interest in those same words or pictures. She grabbed her phone and quickly showed me how it works. “It’s really just a way for people to talk about themselves,” she said. Hmm.

I later learned that Twitter and Instagram are two of the most common ways to connect to other users although hashtags can be used on a variety of social media platforms. (Oh, that helps. Now, where are my two sticks?) I also learned that the term “hashtag” used in this way has been around since 2007.

It seems nearly every sentient being on earth — including our current president — is familiar with hashtags. Everyone except me, apparently. Oh, and the guy who cuts my hair.

I realize I am not of the cohort that hashtags, tweets, pins or snapchats, and I am fine with that. I waste my time in other ways. I tend to fritter rather than twitter my time away. Mostly what I do during the day is doodle, dawdle, dillydally while leaving plenty of time to lollygag. I have no interest in Pinterest. I skipped Skype, and although I don’t grumble about Tumblr, I wouldn’t know how to use it even if I wanted to.

Anyway, I am glad I found out, finally, the answer to my question about hashtags, and now I can move on. It is clear that I am not yet ready to live in the world of constant connectivity.

Perhaps I never will be ready. But, that’s okay. I’m sure there are still a few of us out there who waste time the old-fashioned way. Maybe I should try #lollygag.