It wasn’t the Charleston in the twenties. It wasn’t communism in the fifties or acid in the sixties. It wasn’t crack in the eighties or Internet pornography in the nineties, and it certainly isn’t gay marriage in the new millennium No, none of the most feared memes in American history have proven to tear the moral fabric from under our children’s feet despite the naysayers and extremists who would love to tell you otherwise.
Now, there is a new meme, which we will define here as an emerging idea in American culture, that is both progressive and virulent. It is actually weathering away at the fidelity of American, and to a greater extent, western culture. It’s not cyber bullying, atheism, or medical marijuana: It’s the hashtag, and if we don’t get rid of it soon, we’re all going to die.
Okay, so maybe we aren’t going to die, but if people start treating the hashtag and what it stands for (simple, easily distributed and digested information) as a hip and exciting new institution of knowledge rather than a threat to the fidelity of American culture, we’re going to walk away from the Twitter fad dumber than ever.
Consider Barack Obama’s campaign slogan: Forward, often advertised as #Forward on the Internet. A pound sign and a single word were used to encompass the efforts of our president. Do I know what those efforts are? A little bit I suppose. Universal healthcare, bringing the troops back home, lower thresholds for higher tax brackets etc., etc. The problem is that Twitter and the hashtag are whittling complex issues down to 140 characters or less. In the case of Obama’s campaign, his complex political ideas were condensed into a mere seven characters. My current philosophy class has taught me that being concise is a beautiful thing, but Twitter overdoes it.
Consider the recent government shutdown. There are roughly three levels of understanding you can have of this issue. You can attempt to piece the shutdown together through a series of tweets or hashtags, you can watch the news, or you can read a book on political game theory or take a class on it to obtain an ‘academic’ level of understanding. While most of us like to think that our level of understanding falls somewhere between news-reporting levels of knowledge and academic levels of knowledge, chances are most of us have a #moronic level of understanding of the shutdown. As the hashtag becomes a more popular institution of knowledge in America, our values will shift towards favoring overly simplified reports of current events instead of quality, concise reporting.
We as Americans are a free and democratic people. The Constitution gives us the inalienable right of free press, and with that right comes the basic responsibility to make sure that we as a people are aware of how our own society works, how the rest of the world works and how those two bodies interact. The advent of the hashtag is relieving us of that responsibility and making ignorance more socially acceptable than real knowledge. Hashtags favor opinions and sentiments—often re-tweeted ones that aren’t even your own—and throw healthy dialogues out the window.
These dialogues have historically been key to progress in all walks of American life. For this reason, I fear that the internet, which made information more accessible to us than ever before, is making us dumber by whittling that treasure of information down to a level of fidelity that has little or no intrinsic value to us as a people. #dumb #stupid #feelfreetodiscussthisfurtherbysendingalettertotheeditor #emailalanduff