What would Vonnegut think of #hashtags?

Vonnegut is a hell of a satirist. If you’ve ever read his book, Cat’s Cradle, then you may recall a few of its quirkier details. The protagonist (John) finds himself on a (fictional) Caribbean island heavily influenced by a religion known as Bokononism.

One of the first introductions with this strange religion is in one of John’s first conversations with a fellow passenger on the flight to the island. She’s elated to discover he is also a “Hoosier”. He seems nonplussed. John then narratively monologues the concept of a granfalloon; An abstract identity or form that people can associate with despite the relationship being mutually pointless.

It’s a concept that is regularly referred to throughout the novel, drawing attention to the mindless identifiers that we make outwardly visible in a way of communicating to our “tribe”. Despite being only a minor piece of this commentary on nuclear weapons, it’s this one idea of the book that stuck with me for years. And Vonnegut never lived in the age of the internet.

Lately, I’ve been exploring social media and how to up my #hyphygame. Naturally hashtags have become ubiquitous in labeling and categorizing the noise that is the social internet. They’re everything from #memes to #socialmovements.

Depending on the platform hashtags can be used with varying degrees of frequency or impact. The funny thing is, whether it’s marketing, politics or good ol’ fashioned sarcasm, hashtags are a questionable component of our hyperconnected world. Beyond a picture or a tweet you can tag with your #ThisCauseIsMeaningful what weight does the identifier carry? What substantial (real, physical) momentum does it have?

I guess it can be fun to find others out there who like quirky mid-calf socks (#sockgame), to know that a lot of people like to cull up some old memory (#TBT), or maybe just see what others think about while they ride (#TITAWIR), but I’d be real curious what Vonnegut might think of this #granfalloon.

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