Hashtags have become such a common practice these days that people have started using them outside of their intended purpose. People use them in text messages, chats, songs, and advertisements.
As a semiotician, I find this very interesting. It suggests to me that hashtags started out with relatively uncomplicated semantic value, but have become a quasi-linguistic phenomenon with much richer meaning. Much in the way that human beings will, purposely or without planned direction, reshape the connotations, denotations, and forms of words (see my earlier post linking to Dictionary.com’s slideshows), it seems that we’ve expanded the meaning of hashtags. While for me, the word “hashtag” (signifier) denotatively still refers to the visual pound sign # (signified), the connotations are much richer. The sign act (if I may so put it) that we engage in when using this signifier and signified has come to include socio-cultural phenomena that are linked to the use of hashtags: The frivolity or grassroots empowerment, depending on how you see it, of the social media trend; the age-old debate about whether the latest crop of young people is ruining the world or saving it (I frequently cite Socrates’ distaste for the burgeoning fashion of writing as an example of how far back this goes). Perhaps the hashtag has become a visual, verbal, and experiential metaphor for our experience(s) of digital life, as intertwined generations, cultures, and societies?
Now I’m extra excited for the documentary Life After Digital, airing on TVO at 9PM Wednesday, December 17!