thIt started with a simple question: What exactly is a hashtag? 

I knew I was falling behind the times when commercials started mentioning them. As in, Samsung Galaxy #The Next Big Thing. Except, I don’t think there are spaces. I think it’s #TheNextBigThing. No spaces. I don’t know if running your                                            words together is a hashtag rule or what.

Then a friend’s daughter made a joke that my name should be Amy #Did I Punch You? because I always ask that question after transferring to or from a vehicle. My right arm (the one with decreased sensation) flails out and inadvertantly smacks whoever’s standing there. So, she made the joke, and I got the humor without actually getting hashtags, and I laughed. But inside I wondered, does she know what a hashtag is? She’s only 12.

The final straw came when a writer friend and I viewed a contest form online that asked for our Twitter handles. As if we had such things. And it was required info, mind you, as evidenced by the bright red asterick. Like it was as common as a zip code. Twitter and hashtags are linked somehow. This much I knew, but little else. It was time to stop feeling stupid. It was time to figure a few things out.

Now, this will be old hat to some of you. Probably, the younger someones or the otherwise technologically advanced. And some of you will be clueless, having never even heard the term. Like my 95-year-old grandma (sorry, Jeanie) or my 83-year-old uncle who still uses a non-electric push mower and a rotary dial phone. (Sorry, Peter. Hey, you’re nobody till you’ve been written about in my blog.) The rest of you may have varying degrees of knowledge on the subject, but who, perhaps like me, have been faking whatever you don’t know. In fact, I bet if a lot of people were really honest, you’d find very few of us who actually know what a hashtag is at all.

So, I did the first thing any person over 40 does when they want to know something — consulted the encyclopedia. The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, to be exact. And I googled it. Here’s what I found out: hashtags are to Twitter what keywords, or tags, are to search engines. In fact, I think (don’t hold me to it, this is very new and shaky knowledge) that search engines use hashtags too. Hashtags are just a way of grouping and categorizing information on the Web, predominately on Twitter. So, if a million people are tweeting about the Olympics using hashtag #Sochi, then all those conversations will be grouped together and there’s a greater likelihood that the subject will “trend” on Twitter. (There’s a list of what’s popular, or trending, when you first log on to Twitter.) So, this explains why all the advertising corporations are doing it. It’s the latest form of marketing.

That said, I think Twitter is dumb. I apologize to those of you out there who love it, but I mean, really. How much spare time do you have to have on your hands to bother telling people you just polished off a box of Girl Scout cookies? Who cares?! (I have an account now and a grand total of four followers and I swear that’s what most of the tweets are about. Nothing.)

UnknownI much prefer that other time waster. I mean, aside from Facebook. (Hey, I’ve lost hours playing Candy Crush as much as the next person.) I’m talking about Pinterest. It’s my latest addiction. And I believe worthwhile. It’s like browsing a huge magazine store where you can rip out pages from the magazines without buying any of them. Like a recipe? Interesting article? No more stealing from the doctor’s office. You just “pin it” to a virtual bulletin board.

I remember my writing teacher leading my retreat group in an exercise creating vision boards. We poured through magazines looking for images that spoke to or inspired us. It allowed us to dream, to create, to plan for our futures. I loved the idea, but felt hindered because of my inability to cut or paste. Enter Pinterest. It’s vision boarding without the mess!

Of course, you could be really old school and just read a book to pass the time. I was sharing some of my new techie knowledge with my friend Diana the other night. As she left, she asked about a book on my shelf. “I haven’t read it,” I admitted. “I got it for Christmas.”

“Perhaps you can start it during your Twitter time.”

Point taken. It’s good to keep up with technology. Especially as a writer — I might want to write about a character who tweets one day. But time spent reading a good old-fashioned book will never be time wasted. I started it that night. Thanks for the reminder, Diana.