EARLY THIS WEEK, I found myself tongue-tied trying to explain to my old man, Grandpa Richard, what a hashtag is. In the past, I have tried, amid abashing stutters, to elucidate to the dignified greybeard the meaning of new fangled terms such as MILF, twerking, and more recently, Team Mafisi.
You see, Grandpa Richard is not on Twitter. I once tried to sign him up and he nearly suffered an aneurism. All the sentences on the micro-blogging site read in Mandarin and spelt backwards.
This week, however, I took him back to Twitter to show him first-hand the trending hashtags of the hour. “Someone should take away your comrades’ computers and shield them from interacting with the rest of humanity,” exclaimed Grandpa after skimming through a couple of posts that should have been tweeted only after watershed hours. “For all we know, their ignorance and stupidity could be contagious!”
I tried convincing Grandpa that hashtags are often used to rally people behind useful causes, but he would hear none of it. “Someone needs to blow a hole in this hashtags Shangri-la that your tweet-touting comrades have going on,” he fumed.
Try as he might, Grandpa Richard could not wrap his head around how a hashtag changes the world for the better. “Most of those hashtags read like fools’ mantras only meant to be retweeted by fellow dunderheads,” he observed. I could not help but agree with my old man.
During the halcyon days, when Grandpa Richard and his peers had issues they felt needed to be addressed, they confronted them one by one with the powers that be. This pro-active approach actually effected change in the society. Sadly, such courage is obsolete.
Flip the coin to the post-Twitter era, and you find a comrade of mine spewing hashtags in a foxhole, quaffing a second generation drink while puffing on this and that. The impact they create barely amounts to a hill of beans.
Then there’s a section of my comrades whose idea of giving medical care is puting up sensational images of patients suffering from rare diseases on Facebook and asking people to click “like”. The images are often so heart-wrenching that if you don’t like them, then you can eat kilos of nyama choma daily without having to worry about the risk of a heart attack. You’ve got no heart, you see.
However, I am yet to attend a funeral where the eulogy read, “We are gathered here today because the deceased’s picture on Facebook did not gather enough likes.”
If my comrades really want to make an impact, Grandpa Richard suggests taking up a cause and devoting at least two hours to it weekly. Hold meetings, mobilise fellow comrades, visit the sick, do community service and fundraise for the needy.
They should become pro-active and ditch armchair activism for actual work. Their hashtags are useless; that’s the problem with my comrades.