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Twuesday Tweetacular: dispatches from the hashtag front
A few days ago, a friend of mine was sitting at her computer, her face expressing deep, hopeless concentration—writer’s block if I’ve ever seen it. When I asked her what was stumping her, she sounded exasperated: “I can’t think of anything to tweet about.”
Her answer surprised me, but not because of the importance that she was assigning to coming up with a bite-sized sentiment to bestow on her dozens of followers. Rather, I was baffled that she had enough self-awareness not to just type up her latest passing thought and throw in some number signs and words without spaces between them. From my experience, that’s what Twitter is all about.
I am a reluctant tweeter. Back in the day, out of the jobless boredom that was my summer after graduating high school, I made myself a Twitter account. It currently consists of four tweets, the last of which was posted on August 5, 2009. But earlier this year, when I became editor of Vox Populi, the Voice’s blog, I became responsible for the weekly microblog survey known as the “Twuesday Tweetacular.” This quickly became my least favorite task, as it required me to weed through ungodly numbers of tweets from the over 1,000 accounts that @GtownVoice follows, and try to find five—just five!—that are suitable for those coveted Tuesday morning spots. You’d marvel at just how difficult this is.
Manning this account gives me an unusual perspective on Twitter. I’m an outsider looking in, reading the tweets of a massive population consisting largely of regular people I’ve never met and know nothing about. I’m not laughing at inside jokes, having conversations with my friends, or posting culturally relevant Huffington Post articles—my job is to, as quickly as possible, judge tweets based solely on their comic value or degree of insight. Through this weekly process I have come to a not-so-shocking conclusion: virtually all people lack Twitter filters, and very, very few of them are funny.
Sure, there are exceptions—mostly joke accounts and news sources. But for every @PimpBillClinton there are thousands of accounts like @guyinmyEnglishclass, who live-tweets his thoughts like they’re some kind of political debate.
I’m not saying that Twitter is the first website that has made its users think undeservingly highly of themselves—that’s been going on since every eighth grade girl with a MySpace profile thought taking mirror pictures made her Adriana Lima. But on Twitter, we’ve reached a new level of online self-importance. Bios of average, relatively insignificant @hoyadudes unironically state that “tweets are my own, retweets are not endorsements.” This started with celebrities and politicians, who sometimes pay assistants to tweet for them and have the ability to, you know, actually endorse things. But now, this trend has spread to the masses, and everybody needs to tell their “followers”—implying not friendship but fandom, admiration, dependence—that their snappy comments about #singlegirlproblems were not written by a professional.
And then there’s that number sign. With the recent boom in Twitter use, the hashtag has become a cultural phenomenon that blurs the line between Twitter and other forms of communication. The hashtag was designed to allow Twitter to track which topics users were talking about at a particular time. But that simple, practical idea has since entered the extra-Twitter lexicon, to the point where virtually everyone—including yours truly—has been caught hashtagging texts, Facebook posts, even regular, in-person conversations.
Besides the fact that it’s annoying, and, at least when speaking out loud, a little awkward to say, using the hashtag makes one crunch even communication not barred by a 140-character limit into impersonal little sound bytes. A hashtag-adorned text is little more than a targeted tweet—probably sent to multiple people, obviously meant to show off the sender’s hashtagging hilarity, and would likely be tweeted to the masses if more people would understand it. And as funny as it can occasionally be to hashtag normal conversation, the trend has had its share of cultural casualties—think about how much less attention Charlie Sheen would’ve gotten if #winning had confined itself to tweeters.
And that’s my biggest qualm, complaint, and fear about the Twitter monster—its implications beyond its own bounds. In less than a month, my tenure as Vox editor will be up, the Tweetacular will be someone else’s burden, and I can recede into the comfortable life of the Twitterless. But as long as I still get shortened, impersonal texts, see movie posters advertising with hashtags rather than slogans, and have to listen to my friends self-importantly talk about their “CULP major problems,” I will be constantly and involuntarily living in the real-world Twittermerica, feeling like there’s #nowayout.