It seems no matter what you read on the Internet these days, you’ve grown used to seeing lists from a wide range of topics. Lists that promise you things, whether it’s 12 simple ways to eat better, be happier, or just be that much more distracted for the next few minutes. But I’m beginning to think these lists are having the opposite affect. Here’s yet another list as to why.
1. They’re arbitrary.
Breaking down a thought or idea into list form when it’s not necessarily meant to be dilutes the quality of that idea. Are there really 17 reasons why you think Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder should get back together, or only 6 habits of happy people? How and why were these numbers even decided on?
2. They’re usually outrageously superfluous and full of empty content.
Most of these lists serve two main purposes: to distract you, and to produce clicks and web traffic for the website you’re reading so that said website’s advertisers make money. That’s it. The content of the lists themselves is of little interest to the people who published that list. And we all know that clicking on one leads to a clickhole of having read 38 by time you decide to stop. Distraction may be achieved, but it’s sort of like the equivalent of eating all your Halloween candy in one sitting.
3. They make you think you can fix your life in a number of easy steps.
You can learn to do anything on the Internet these days by following a simple list. You know who wrote those lists? People like me, who probably have zero expertise in the topic they’re writing about. Or, the expertise is there, but the writing skills are not. Either way, you’re screwed. If you really want to learn to cook/drop some pounds/save for retirement, you know what to do, just like you know the answer doesn’t lie in a list you found on Facebook.
4. They are belittling writers and the quality of excellent writing.
When was the last time you read something online that was a proper article or essay or piece of journalism? And when was the last time you happened upon that piece of writing from reading other pieces of writing like that, and not from a link someone shared on social media? Despite the fact that it feels like there’s nothing good to read on the Internet, there is! But you have to find it purposefully. (If you want to Google best [insert topic/kind of publication] to read right now, I’ll allow it.)
5. They give the false impression that information can be broken down into an easy, digestible format.
Lists or listicles, as they’re cloyingly called, have evolved out of our every-growing need to have everything we need immediately without having to do any work. They are a natural progression following our dependency on the Internet. Googling things like “top books of the year” and “best restaurants in San Francisco” produces some quality lists, ones we’ve grown to trust. But that same idea of “I need to know something, and I need to know it now” seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Some things are better left long form, or hard to find, or advertisement-free. And sometimes, you’re better left doing the work yourself.
Lists are probably not going anywhere for a while, despite the fact that lots of people feel the way I do. The direction of where Internet content is headed is rather bleak, depending on how you look at it. You either have to pay for it (which I’d argue is mostly worth it, depending on the publication), you’re blasted with ads, or you’re reading something aimed at the middle-most common denominator. The power to change it feels far beyond us. But if we could, would we even want to? Or would we be content to stare at the 16 cutest dogs on Instagram and the 11 celebrities with lazy eyes or learn the 7 ways to tell if your partner is cheating on you or the 15 reasons why JK Rowling is a bad ass? Wait, what am I writing about again?