Musings: Exploring the colloquial use of hashtags

Last week as I submitted my dissertation report, two of my professors wondered how I will announce it on social media. They predicted long, emotive captions that detailed my post graduation journey. One said to the other, “Sir, wait till you see the number of hashtags she puts up.” Then, he turned to me asking, “How many hashtags do you use on an average?”

Though it was a really amusing (read: real) conversation, I was quick to brush aside the assumption of hashtags. “I don’t use hashtags as all my posts across the spectrum are private by default, except on Twitter,” I explained. One of my professors said that there could be an interesting study on people who post excessively on social media but don’t use hashtags.

“People who use hashtags in posts by a private account are idiots!” I exclaimed. Hashtags are tools to join public conversations online and create content that is discoverable. By default, private posts are out of the league in such scenarios. There are exceptions though.

Sometimes, private posts include hashtags to indicate that it is a part of the narrative, but not publicly. I did this to participate in #SareeTwitter on Instagram as I wasn’t comfortable in putting my old saree-clad picture on the micro-blogging site where everything is public by default.

I loitered around the department and clicked pictures of my thesis against the wall that we are famous for and my guide in the frame. Of course, I needed something good to put up online!

Later in the day, as I was sharing the picture on all platforms, except Twitter, I had this strong urge to write #Done in the WhatsApp story caption. (Spoiler alert: Ultimately, I used the plain old Done.)

This was a peculiar situation for a WhatsApp story is an area that is absolutely untouched by the rules of discoverability. By my own proclamation in the morning, I was an idiot to use a hashtag this way. But there was an urge, you see, it made me think.

I thought of how I sometimes use hashtags in the written form, primarily on social media, as well as colloquially while speaking. I kept unravelling it in my head between Santacruz local and Andheri metro stations and came to the conclusion that hashtags have indeed become an integral part of my life in ways the traditional (hmm, interesting how this is the best word I could come up with) rules don’t allow.

Hashtags help add an edge to conversations, making them more current and palatable. They infuse an eccentric taste in day-to-day conversations and I am running out of adjectives here to define the situation better. I guess all I can do is think, contemplate and document the evolution of how I interact with this cute little symbol. This is just the beginning.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to reach out. I am all ears!

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