The evolution of the hashtag and new media rhetoric

Ah, the humble hashtag. It’s likely you’ve never thought about it in any great depth. It seems such a fixture of our culture that it is hard to imagine that only a few years ago it was an obscure bit of jargon and a few years before that it did not exist at all. Now you encounter it more or less daily and it doesn’t seem very interesting.

But it’s surprising how much you can learn by looking at the boring things we encounter in everyday life. A lot of our knowledge of antiquity comes from the study of coinage and pottery. The most fascinating sociological studies deconstruct everyday encounters to reveal the structure of human social relations. A history of the hashtag is a history of the Internet in miniature, and that has to have some value.

(I should note that I am writing for an educated but nontechnical audience, so I may gloss over some obscure details. I am not particularly concerned with the creation of a precise timeline of the development of certain concepts; my main consideration is making the concepts themselves and the way they stack on top of one another clear.) Continue reading