I love hashtags.
I considered naming our new puppy, Hashtag because I thought it was hilarious. Don’t worry. I was mostly joking…
If you know me. You know I love a good hashtag. The more ridiculous the better. But poor old hashtags aren’t usually taken very seriously. Take, for instance, this conversation with my husband tonight.
Husband: Is it okay with you if I go out tonight? I know I’ve been gone a lot this week. (He’s the best.)
Me: Oh no, it’s okay. I have a blog post to write anyway. I’m going to write about how much I love hashtags.
Husband: (long pause) (hysterical laughter)
I knew I could get a good laugh out of him by putting it that way. But I wasn’t lying, exaggerating or being sarcastic.
Hashtags are one of my very favorite things. Ever.
Now before you laugh at me hysterically too, let me tell you why.
Hashtags were created to connect people and build community.
I understand the selfie hashtag probably isn’t building too many new lifelong friendships (Maybe it is. Who really knows?) And I 100% recognize the destructive nature of many hashtags that exist. This post is not to dispute that or say that all hashtags are created equal. This post is meant to hopefully give you a little chuckle at my admitted obsession, but also to show you the wonderful power of this weird social media feature when used one of the ways I believe it was originally intended.
I love community. I live for relationship. Connection. Sisterhood. Family. Team. People.
I have spent the greater part of the past six years fighting chronic illness. For several of those years we weren’t even sure what I was sick with. It took every. single. ounce. of my strength and energy to feed and clothe my kids. Some days I succeeded. Most days my husband had to come home from work early after yet another phone call and desperate plea from me because I simply couldn’t finish the day on my own. (Did I mention he is the best?)
So there I was. A stay at home mom, struggling with things all moms of young kids struggle with, and also fighting for my health. Fighting for my life back. Watching life happen around me. Craving connection and friendship but too sick to leave the house for play dates or girls nights. During that time I found the strange new app, Instagram. I’m going to sounds dramatic again, but I literally had no idea how much that little app would change my life.
I started documenting our life. The lame life that it was at the time.
I added filters with gusto.
Mayfair! Valencia! Early bird! Lo-fi!!!!
I was reckless and out of control. Isn’t everyone when they’re falling in love?
But my life didn’t really change until I discovered hashtags. I remember browsing the suggested user list on Instagram and seeing lots of number signs followed by words. Finally I started to get the hang of it. Filters AND hashtags? I was unstoppable.
Slowly I began to see the potential for real connection through these hashtags. I found parenting hashtags, crafting hashtags, chronic illness hashtags, clean eating hashtags. I browsed them for hours. It’s a little embarrassing. But true. When you spend most of your time in bed, you find yourself with lots of tag browsing time. As I scrolled and scrolled through these tags filled with photos, I began to visit the galleries of the people I was finding. I began to connect with other moms. Other crafters. Other photographers. We built relationships. We started doing life together. And not just the picture perfect parts. We talked about the hard. The ugly. The scary. The overwhelming. We started to talk outside of social media. We read books together and had online book clubs. We grieved miscarriages and illnesses and hard moves and life’s ever-changing seasons. We celebrated birthdays and new babies and grand adventures. We told the truth. We admitted our weaknesses. We encouraged each other. We took the crazy technology in this modern world of ours and we did what people have done for centuries.
We made friends.
And even at that, some of you will chuckle. And say, “Friends? From social media? Yeah right.”
To which I say, I understand your skepticism. My husband chuckled at me the first time I referred to my friend Jess as such. I believe his exact words were, “She’s from Instagram. She’s not your friend.” As if she weren’t real or the connection we had couldn’t possibly exist.
Two years later we’re still friends and my husband would be the first to admit that the friendships I have made through social media are some of the most wonderful relationships in my life.
Slowly I progressed, became stronger. I began to see hope, believe in healing. As I crawled my way back to some sense of normalcy, I realized how dear these friendships were to my heart and knew I needed to pursue building them further. So far I have spent time in “real life” with seven of my friends from Instagram, and their families. I chat with several more on a regular basis. And in September I’m speaking at a homeschool conference for a couple hundred women, almost all of whom have been connected because of Instagram. And it all started with each of us browsing hashtags and finding people we connected with.
Do you see the power? The wonderful potential?
However, as with all things wonderful, we must not be blinded by the beauty. Remember it doesn’t end with liking a photo or retweeting a tweet. If that’s all the depth there is then I understand why people think social media is a waste of time and takes away from real life and real friends and real community. But I would argue that when used the right way, social media, and all of its endless hashtags, has the power to build and ignite community in a way that our world has never seen before. If we take the extra steps. Go out on a limb. Take a road trip and meet that friend. Go to a conference even if you’re nervous about it. Step out from behind the screen and hug in real life. If meeting in person isn’t possible yet, talk on the phone, FaceTime, send care packages. Allow social media to be a tool to create community, not a substitute for the real thing.
Community encourages, challenges, loves, grows, listens, believes, and heals. And I think hashtags are one of the best community building tools around.