pugMy friend’s son, Tony, was on the phone with Verizon yesterday and was told to hit the “pound sign.” He looked at the key pad and said, “the what sign?” The Verizon robot repeated the directions and he looked at me for help. As I pointed to the #, Tony said, “OH, hashtag!”

This was well timed as days earlier, I explained to his mother what #_____ meant while she was perusing Tony’s Instagram.

Mobile is greatly impacting how younger generations are wired, how they interact, and how this will change the business world just years from now. Members of Generation Y, who pride themselves on being unique, are finding new ways to reach out to others, creating personal connections that simply don’t make sense to older generations.

The need to be connected and liked is an important foundation for many. With incredible convenience, mobile was introduced to the social world at a time when schedules are incredibly busy and over-committed is the norm. This has created “networked individualism” – people are living in networks, not just tight-knit social networking groups. Mobile is making being friends with strangers a reality.

When something of interest happens in Tony’s world, he grabs his Galaxy, opens Twitter and keys in a keyword after a #. Instantly, he is taken to a wealth of information updated in real time and, most importantly, by people who are WHERE the event is happening. Twitter helped me follow similar actions when the Navy Yard shooting happened in DC a couple weeks ago.

With so much access at our fingertips, we’re living in a state of continuous partial attention –always somewhat paying attention to where we are and what’s going on at that exact moment. Going out to dinner with a group of friends, we have a rule that our phones go in a pile on the table so we actually have to hang out with the people we’re physically with. This rule goes into effect once someone’s checked us in, looked at local recommendations, and ends when it’s time to handle the check with a Groupon coupon.

The hashtag phenomenon has expanded past Twitter and now works with Facebook, Google+ and even LinkedIn. I doubt you’ll find many #selfie on LinkedIn, but search #LBS (location based services) and companies and individuals posting on that subject will appear. Enterprises are jumping on the bandwagon of celebrity status by harnesses the power of networked individualism – companies know growth will not happen if their message is only received by those that are already connected, what’s the point?

Tony told me his favorite hashtag is #selfie because it instantly allows everyone who follows him (a number he can roll off his tongue faster than his social security number) to join him. Although he’s by himself, he doesn’t feel alone when he’s deciding between two hats at Lids. His rationale? Whatever picture gets more likes in 5 minutes is the one he’s walking away with. He bragged to me that the last time he did this, Lids gave him half off because of the attention he got them.

This is where we’re heading and it’s not just for the younger crowd; everyone enjoys relevant information at just the right time. Remember when someone at the Starbucks drive-thru paid for the person behind them and it started a chain of nice acts? That first car is now disguised as your smart phone and it’s determined to make your days a little bit brighter.

Keep calm and #selfie.