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WTF, Internet? Keep your hashtags out of my real-life conversation

There’s a lot of overlap between our social lives and social media. It’s only natural: When you spend much time sitting at a computer or staring at a smartphone, there’s bound to be plenty of experiences that sort of blend between the real world and the virtual one.

And that’s okay – usually. I’ll tell you what’s not okay: Saying “hashtag” out loud.

This horrible phenomenon took root within the last couple of years, and it only seems to be getting worse. Case in point: JC Penney.

I’ve got no beef with JCP. It’s a perfectly respectable store that I have some fond childhood memories of as one of the few “regular” shops we went to for back-to-school shopping that carried uniform-friendly clothes. It’s not particularly flashy or hip, but that’s fine. They make clothes, they sell clothes.

There’s something to be said for that, because the last thing this world needs is another brand screaming “Look! We’re trendy! We’re with it!” at the top of their lungs, competing with weird, irrelevant Twitter campaigns or creeptastic Facebook ads.

But alas, JCPenney has succumbed. The store recently gave customers $10 to $25 off their purchases if they say the word “hashtag” at check out.  It was announced via this abomination.

It’s a reference to the Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake sketch … in which they take many punches at people who say “hashtag” in real life. Because it’s horrible.

Saying hashtag out loud is a crutch; it’s basically a preface alerting everyone around you: “Hold up gang, I’m about to say something that is so dry and pointless on its own that I’m going to tack on this weird signifier!” If you say “hashtag,” I basically know it’s OK for me to stop listening.

You think it attaches you to everything obvious about whatever topic you’re talking about. “Hashtag, parents, amirite?” is supposed to mean “I am making a statement about parents that we as a society identify with because of our similar backgrounds. By saying ‘hashtag,’ I am building off of these preconceived notions and making a joke about the things we all know to be true about them. Enjoy!”

If what you’re about to say is so vague and meaningless that you feel the need to attach the spoken hashtag to it, it’s probably not worth saying at all. Hashtags have become a horrible convention we lean on to sarcastically add commentary to our reactions or feelings … except they’re so artless it just immediately bums everybody out.

It would make zero sense to type out “hashtag” on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.

It’s not entirely your fault, though. Everything comes with its own hashtag package: Sporting events, TV shows, albums, brands, restaurants. You’re encouraged to use hashtags, and you see them everywhere. In our small, stupid brains, tweets are confused for talking, Facebook posts for conversations. You feel like these typed, screen-trapped confessionals are real, and thus, saying hashtag out loud just works its way into your subconscious until one day … you say it out loud.

Sure, we can blame that all-encompassing thing called “the media” for subverting our autonomy and planting hashtags in our brains. We’ve been trained that being users yields rewards. But JCPenney took it all incredibly literally by offering cash for hashtags. That’s some reinforcement right there. That’s like telling a crack addict that you’ll give him some heroin next time he smokes crack. He’s already addicted! Why are you trying to push him deeper into ruin!?

At this rate, with actual, dollar rewards to be had for debasing ourselves, the out-loud hashtag will never die. We will become a people who don’t string together sentences or explain ourselves. We won’t express anything or verbalize reactions. Our language will be a series of exchanges composed of spoken hashtags followed by phrases like “that just happened,” “yikes,” and “yolo.”

Think about it: It would make zero sense to type out “hashtag” on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. The tool would lose its purpose.

The same applies to the real world. It’s time to retire the out loud hashtag; you all had some fun. But gather up your remaining dignity and let it live online and online alone. Some things just aren’t meant to exist IRL.