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What's your #hashtag?

Earlier this month, I started publishing my blog posts on Medium as well, primarily to get an idea of what kind of readers turn up there and how the publishing experience there compares to what I use for my blog (Blogger).

I love Medium for it's readability. It has the best UX for reading articles across everything that I've read online. But the feature that really caught my eye is it's hashtag suggestions. Every time I complete a post (I just copy paste whatever I write here) and hit publish, Medium suggests two tags automatically and let's me add another one (and also change it's suggestions).

I used to use labels once upon a time on my blog, but there is no need for it given the nature of my audience. You guys just come here, read the latest post and leave. You don't hang around trying to find other articles (maybe a few of you do). Tags are very helpful for a discovery use case.

That's the reason hashtags are so popular. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, you'll find it everywhere with lots and lots of user generated content. It's the easiest way to classify something and catch the wandering user's eye.

I was out with a friend last weekend and I was trying to explain something around how I don't like people doing jobs that don't scale and doesn't lead to anything (uber-driver jobs as I'd like to call them), and I was labelled a socialist.

I didn't start off thinking I'm a socialist and whatever I ended up saying made the other person associate me with a socialist. This sparked off an interesting line of thought on how our minds work.

We are always looking to label and classify things, because the moment we come across something, an idea, a video, a book, anything, we find it much easier to understand it when we have decided what lens we will look at it with. Our labeling (or hashtagging) will build a background environment into which the new incoming information can be slotted in easily. Which is why people scoff if you talk to them about acting subtleties in a Salman Khan movie or the literary genius of a Chetan Bhagat. Because the incoming information is not going to fit into the background environment created by the hashtag. 'Literary genius and Chetan Bhagat? WTF?!' will be the response.

Now this poses two very interesting scenarios. One, when you're consuming someone else's content (I'll say content to cover everything from ideas to mannerisms to words and actions). At your age (no matter what age it is as long as it's greater than twelve), you've seen enough people under varying circumstances to be able to classify (hashtag) anyone new you see (or hear about) within minutes of seeing them. And from that moment on, everything that they say or do will be seen with that background environment your classification has created. And it gets very hard for the other person to change this perception of yours. This is the theory behind making first impressions.

The reverse of this scenario is also something to think about. Every person you meet makes an impression about you (hashtags you) in the first few minutes as well. So, you can choose the right things to say or do to help them associate the right hashtags (the ones that you want them to associate with you).

There is a thin line between doing this for someone else and doing this for yourself. And that brings us to the second interesting scenario. Which is when you start seeing yourself through hashtags. If you believe you're a capitalist, a Hindu, an entrepreneur, a vegetarian, you lose sight of the larger picture.

The other person never has all the information about you (nor does she have the time to bother to find out). So, it makes sense for you to help her create some hashtags to understand you better. By saying you're a capitalist, a Hindu, an entrepreneur and a vegetarian, you've helped her build a coherent image of you which maybe 80% right, allowing you time to correct the 20% that's wrong. And it's much quicker to say these four words than describe all the stories behind why you call yourself those (that's for later, if needed).

But you know absolutely everything about yourself. You don't need hashtags to make decisions. If you feel like voting for a socialist, you don't have to let your capitalist label get in the way. And if you think eating fish is good for you, you don't have to let your vegetarian label get in the way. You can always decide on the situation at hand. Otherwise, you're giving away the ability to make decisions based on logic and start following labels. Labels that you've associated with yourself. Marketers only do their best to amplify these labels. They don't actually create the labels for you. You do that yourself.

I ended up thinking that hashtags are fantastic to let others know, quickly, a lot of things about you. But when you start making decisions in life based on hashtags that you've given yourself (or worse, that others have given you), then, god save rationality!

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