Greg Dennis: Hashtag is not a breakfast dish

So is social media making us all one big happy human family? Are we all friends now that we’re on Facebook — or are we fake friends who’ve been fooled into exposing our personal interests so companies can market to us?
Most of us — a billion-plus — have made our peace with Facebook. It’s not just a way to find long-lost friends. It’s an easy way to keep in touch with people we don’t see every day.
In some cases we might not even want to see those folks very often. But it’s nice to keep up with their latest adventures and to see what they’ve been up to and how their families are faring.
But most of us can endure only so many pictures of someone’s dog.
We appreciate the sentiment. Yet we could do without all those photos of what they cooked for dinner last night, or of their third margarita at that cool bar in Waikiki.
Lately I’ve been using Facebook to join communities that share some of my enthusiasms. Virtually the entire email list for singer-songwriter Richard Shindell, for example, has now decamped to a “private” group of 500 rabid Shindellians on Facebook, there by invitation only.
While this move to Facebook has prompted some handwringing among the few fans who object to Facebook as a capitalist conspiracy, the rest of us are feasting on an informed, multimedia-enhanced discussion about a musician we love.
The back-and-forth in text — about all we could do in the online discussion group via email — has now been supplemented on Facebook by videos of Shindell’s performances. With those come lively discussions about whether he plays a particular song better on acoustic or electric guitar; if the recorded or live version is better; who else plays that song; if it should be in standard tuning or DAGDAG — all the usual minutiae that drives non-believers wild with impatience. And is a feast for us Facebook fans.
Facebook has many other uses, of course. In my healthcare consulting work, I use Facebook to bring interested “fans” together and keep them informed about issues such as breast cancer. For those living through cancer and other illnesses, Facebook can be a valuable lifeline, a source of both information and comfort.
I’ve also been using Facebook for years to broadcast my political beliefs. Especially when I wanted to make what I thought were essential points about the dangers posed by fossil fuels and climate.
But I have to admit I’m doing less of that these days.
What changed?
I got tired of seeing all my liberal friends’ posts about Bernie Sanders and the latest evil perpetuated by billionaires.
Yes, Bernie makes some great points about income inequality. And Social Security and Medicare really are endangered by those benighted souls who think we should all be self-reliant, Ayn Rand-type individuals free from government “oppression.”
But something changed when Bernie decided he wants to be president. Instead of seeing actual interesting posts from friends on Facebook, I’m now facing a torrent of Bernie’s political statements, photos from rallies (10,00 people in Madison! 12,000 in Phoenix!), and the latest legal details about urgent new legislation the senator has introduced to keep the barbarians from the gate.
That burden of Bernie overload has prompted me to curb my own enthusiasm for scoring cheap political points online. (I believe the technical term for that kind of political posting is “slactivism.”)
But if there’s an issue you’re passionate about, Twitter is the place to be.
It’s true that the uninitiated tend to shake their skeptical heads over Twitter. And for the initiated, Twitter tends to group us into our political silos. I’m quite happy, for example, to “unfollow” the deniers of climate change who have accused me of being “warmist.”
But for connecting about an issue that’s important to you, there’s nothing better online than Twitter. Plus it also serves as a live newsfeed for events of all kinds, especially political ones — from the Arab Spring to the latest fossil-fuel divestment meeting in Montpelier.
And if hilarious liberal satire is your thing, nobody lights up Twitter better than Andy Borowitz.
Lately, too, many of us have drifted over to Instagram as a way to share photos, and to see friends’ visual talents in a flash.
If you haven’t yet experienced this medium, it’s primarily photo based, with hashtag text markers to made it easier to comment and follow certain topics.
Because it’s primarily built around photos, it’s a place to find arresting images. The world is just a prettier place on Instagram.
Sometimes as with Facebook, too, it’s a way to keep track of people.
For example, I’ve pretty much lost touch with an old girlfriend who has lived in France for many years (and whose presence there once prompted me to spend outrageous amounts of money to fly back and forth from Montreal to Marseilles).
We haven’t spoken in years. But I see on Instagram that she’s just moved back to San Diego.
Her broadcast of that move via photos on Instagram has led me to conclude that in many ways we are who we are, wherever we are and whatever medium we use to express ourselves.
Her pictures of southern California look a lot like France.
Instagram isn’t just for lost loves, though. It’s also an excellent forum for newer loves that we hope will last until eternity. It turns out that Instagram provides a valuable service for weddings.
If you want to be truly up to date, you should also ask anyone who is newly engaged: What is the Instagram hashtag for your wedding?
That way, you can follow and add to the photos and comments piling up on Instagram before, during and after the actual wedding.
It used to be that we asked the newly betrothed where they were registered.
Now we need to know their hashtag.
I think this may be progress. But I’m not sure.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis. Instagram: gregdennisvt. But don’t even ask about Snapchat.

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