The #Art of the Hashtag

Lindsay Zoladz, in Pitchfork, looks at the hashtag as a powerful linguistic shortcut and its "culture-jamming" possibilities:

If you have any doubt that the hashtag is a frighteningly powerful tool in our modern vocabulary, imagine a person you care about texting you that song's title line out of the blue: "You're beautiful." Now think of the same person texting, "You're #beautiful." The second one is jokey, ironic, distant—and hey, maybe that's what that person was going for. But it also hammers home that point that the internet too often asserts: You're not as original as you once thought. "Beautiful" is analog, unquantifiable, one-in-a-million. #Beautiful, on the other hand, is crowded terrain. Ten more people have just tweeted about something or someone #beautiful since you started reading this sentence.


As more and more of our daily interactions become text-based—people preferring texting to phone calls, workplaces that rely heavily email and instant messaging—we're developing ways to stretch our written language so it can communicate more nuance, so we can tell people what we mean without accidentally leading them on or pissing them off. Periods have becomemore forceful, commas less essential, and over the last few years, the hashtag has morphed into something resembling the fabled sarcasm font—the official keystroke of irony. Putting a hashtag in front of something you text, email, or IM to someone is a sly way of saying "I'm joking," or maybe more accurately, "I mean this and I don't at the same time."

The Code of Life

In The New York Times, author and book critic Juliet Waters shares what happened once she realized that learning to code could enhance her career:

The first surprise of learning to program? I actually enjoyed it. Yes, programming is challenging, frustrating and often tedious. But it offers satisfactions that are not unlike those of writing. The elegant loops of logic, the attention to detail, the mission of getting the maximum amount of impact from the fewest possible lines, the feeling of making something engaging from a few wispy, abstract ideas — these challenges were familiar to me as a critic. By my third month, I had internalized a new logic, a different way of looking at information. By the time summer came around, I was learning about good web design by constructing web applications, taking them from simple prototypes to something sophisticated enough to test with users. And by the end of the course, I knew the basic structure of computer operating systems.

Now, I was never going to be a career programmer. Though I got into it with the idea of getting myself out of a financial pinch, it turned out to be unnecessary. I managed to transition from a book critic to a features writer.

But my code year changed me. Whenever I meet someone involved in technology — which is pretty much everyone these days — I have a real understanding of what they’re talking about, whether it’s an I.T. consultant working with a bank trying to exploit the possibilities of Big Data or a biomedical engineer who has created software to more precisely visualize an M.R.I. scan. Knowing some code has made me feel more connected to others in our tech-driven society.


Chris Jones: Storytelling is magic

Jones compares storytelling to the seven principles of magic, giving narrative newcomers and veterans alike a fresh way to think about the craft. Watch him give his talk — and perform a magic trick.

Chris Jones is a writer-at-large for Esquire and a back-page columnist for ESPN: The Magazine. This is his opening keynote for The Power of Storytelling conference in 2013, in Bucharest, Romania.