Hashtag Inventor Responds To Justin Timberlake And Fallon Skit: ‘What Have I Done?’

Chris Messina tells MTV News the 'Late Night' skit may be a preview of a 'terrifying' future.

How often do you use hashtags? To punctuate the occasional #deepthought? Or more like #every other #word?

On Tuesday night’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” Fallon and guest star Justin Timberlake made fun of the now-ubiquitous pound sign and its tendency to creep into our verbal musings, a skit that the founder of the hashtag Chris Messina speculates could be “a depiction of what the future is going to look like, which may be terrifying to some.”

In the skit, Fallon and Timberlake catch up on mundane subjects like cookies and TV shows, the number of hashtags in their speech increasing until their conversation is rendered nearly gibberish. The bit is a stark sign of our very immediate times, as the hashtag has only been used as such since 2007, when Messina introduced the # into the Twitter lexicon as a way to make the social service easier to navigate. “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” Messina tweeted — thereby introducing a convention that launched a thousand trending topics about Miley’s tongue.

“It’s funny, because in the beginning, Evan [Williams] who invented Twitter flat-out rejected the idea,” Messina said of hashtags. “He said it was way too nerdy and it was never going to catch on. I was kind of defeated by that and I thought, ‘These guys are building Twitter, they must know something.’ Being sort of a half-closeted nerd myself, I decided, ‘OK, they’re for nerds. I guess I’ll keep doing it.’ Slowly but surely, the thought virus ended up infecting so many people around the world that now, in some strange way, we are all nerds I guess.”

The whole saying-hashtags-out-loud thing, however, is a newer phenomenon. “More and more I’m getting friends telling me how their kids are hashtagging everything that they say,” Messina said, speculating that the practice is replacing long, meaningful conversations with verbal shorthand. “The sort of prideful fear that I have is that what [Fallon] depicted is actually how teenagers are talking now…. That’s not something I had really anticipated and now that I’m here I’m kind of like, ‘Oh my God… what have I done?”

We think Questlove would agree with that assertion. As the end of the video he bursts onto the scene to brusquely tell JT and Fallon, “Hey guys, #shutthef—up.” #Whoa.

Brenna Ehrlich is a reporter for MTV News as well as the senior writer/editor for the O Music Awards. In the past, she served as associate editor at Mashable, penned a netiquette column for CNN and co-authored the blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." She likes trying not to die in moshpits and listening to songs on repeat. Follow her on Twitter @BrennaEhrlich for news on cats and punk bands.