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:
- They are really nothing more than organizers, like shoe racks or tie trees.
- They are like those 100 calorie snacks –you can consume them in a matter of minutes but you rarely go away feeling satisfied.
- 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.
- Lists may create false authority. (Be mindful of this one.)
- 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.