Posted by: elightkeeper | March 11, 2011

5 1/2 Facts About Internet Lists

In the digital world, it is increasingly common to see blogs or web headings that offer anywhere from 3 to 5 tips on a particular topic. Am I the only person who finds most of these lists pretty shallow? Frequently, the information arrived upon is weak, not on the topic one thought it might be, or it offers nothing new for the reader to contemplate. If you get lucky, it might be entertaining.  Anyone who has watched late night television is familiar with David Lettermen’s Top 10 List.  It is not surprising that somebody came up with a website that offers The10 Best Letterman Top Ten Lists.

It is not the fault of lists. They were just minding their own organized business until tweeters and bloggers came along and decided to put them to work in cyberspace. We now exploit them for all manner of attention-getting purposes. We have eroded their purpose and robbed them of their former dignity. Darn it, we have made them downright cute.

Personally, I love paper lists. I use them all the time for shopping, errands, and tasks I want to accomplish. I particularly enjoy creating little boxes in front of my scratchy, handwritten items and then checking them off as I finish. When I’m feeling particularly organized, I will even use colored highlighter pens to mark my progress. In my view, it is an under-rated domestic art form and I find it deeply satisfying. No doubt, I’m telling you more than you need to know.

At the same time, digital lists don’t inspire me at all. Now why is that? Outlook will stroke a perfect line through an item on my Task list when I simply enter a completion date.  That takes all the fun out of it.  You can color code things for priority by selecting boxes.  Boring.  Hand me a felt pen.  Digital “post its” have no sticking power for me either.  Like a mall Santa Claus, I know they are not real. This is where all of you Mac users get to jump in and tell me I need an Ipad. You might be right. What Apple is onto is a user interface that is engaging. (What a concept.  How might we apply that concept to the interface we currently call education? That is another blog post.)

So what has become of lists? Has the sheer volume of information led us to adopt minimalistic approaches for managing content? Is our brain innately designed to juggle only 3-5 items at one time? (Which item did you forget last time you ran to the grocery store without a list?) Or is this organizational strategy an attempt to package digital ideas into bite-sized pieces?

5 1/2 facts about internet lists:

  1. They are really nothing more than organizers, like shoe racks or tie trees.
  2. They are like those 100 calorie snacks –you can consume them in a matter of minutes but you rarely go away feeling satisfied.
  3. They are reminiscent of magazine covers intended to grab attention – “5 ways to get abs of steel!” Many web lists are designed to be a form of brain candy, tasty little tidbits designed to quickly snag visitors.
  4. Lists may create false authority. (Be mindful of this one.)
  5. Lists appear to be comprehensive summaries when they are really just a few random items that floated out of someone’s mind.  Take this list you are reading, for example.

I did say 5 1/2 facts, didn’t I?  But half a fact is not really a fact at all.

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Responses

  1. Hi Scott and Cindy,

    This is funny – good timing for sure :)

    The value I find in digital “lists” is that they help expose people to other beyond their normal circle of influence. I try to stay away from “Top” lists – I am hardly an expert to make that kind of list – but I do like to share information on those I am following and who are influencing me, and encouraging others to check them out.

    A pet peeve of mine of “lists” that you didn’t include is that there are a lot of institutions who produce lists of the “Top 100″ teachers, administrators, blogs etc. only to drive traffic to their websites.

    • Mission accomplished with your list, Chris. It is great to see people I know on your list, but as you suggest, getting a lead on someone that may be unknown has tremendous value. The doors continue to open through this kind of sharing. As for the website traffickers and their Top 10 lists, they are pretty transparent. I like to believe they might fool me once (or maybe even twice if I’m not paying attention) but the engagement is transient and it sure doesn’t build relationships. Thanks for the contribution! Cindy

  2. I agree with all you’ve said about the lists, and have always thought that number 4 and 5 are the most important – it’s one person’s snapshot on some topic, and doesn’t necessarily mean…well…anything! Should these 2 be combined to form number 1 on the list? : )

    I also simply cannot resist saying that you must have had some insider info on what Chris Kennedy’s blog post would be today. Either that, or he’s following you more closely than you thought!

    Scott

    • Hi Scott,
      Thanks for the comment and the amusing connection. If Chris (http://cultureofyes.ca) will accept a friendly amendment and make his list “Twenty-Five and A Half BC Influencers”, I shall submit my resume forthwith for the position of half. :-)
      Cindy

  3. Thoughtful piece. Internet lists are revealing in that they
    1). Feed our (infantile, naive) need for simplistic, instant solutions to complex problems;
    2). Demonstrate the (masculine) fixation with quantification and reductionism.
    I could go on listing but………
    Dr A


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