Look, I’m really a live-and-let-live kind of guy. Ants in my kitchen? They’re cleaning up the place. Jehovah’s Witnesses got me out of the shower? I’ll stand and listen to them until every inch of my unadorned skin is dry.
My patience is limited, however, and I am pistol-shoved-in-my-mouth done with Internet lists. There is hardly a news, science, business or infotainment site that isn’t pockmarked by lists compiled by dimwits. The tragedy is, like a dog lapping up a puddle of anti-freeze, we (and when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘me’) can’t resist a brightly-colored pool of sugary brain death.
Internet lists have been with us almost since Charles Babbage built a room-sized machine to match his socks. That longevity doesn’t mean they’re endowed with some exceptional epistemological quality – it just means no one (until now) has come up with reasons why they must die.
(The list drops from a little orange cloud)
1. Internet lists are the Pop Tarts of online content
If your idea of breakfast is a slab of starch injected with fructose slime, you’re reading this because you love Internet lists. And while propellerheads persist in declaring that the Internet has consigned books and print journalism to the scrap heap of history (hastening our evolution to become Eloi), 90 percent of what has presumably replaced those so-called anachronisms are lists with no intellectual nutritional value.
2. Internet lists are almost never written by experts
Not to put a squirrel in your shorts but you’re not going to see, “12 examples of why the Cosmos is awesome!” with a Stephen J. Hawking byline, much less, “10 books you need to read before you die,” by Thomas Pynchon or, “7 reasons why Keynesian economics ROCKS,” by Paul Krugman. Instead, lists are usually compiled by freelance writers (yeah, such as myself) with a modicum of Google savvy and just enough ambition to search Wikipedia. Thus, most lists are like, “8 countries you’ve probably never heard of (but should visit according to their Wiki page),” or, “15 breeds of dogs with heads that don’t match their bodies,” from authors who are, by and large, hipsters taking up tables at the “Cute & Perk-y” coffee shop, none of whom are clearing off shelf space for their next Pulitzer.
3. Internet lists lack any semblance of objectivity
We’re not saying every Internet list should be subjected to peer review and replication (although that would pretty much make me happy) but lacking that, almost every list amounts to “10 things I really like and now, you really have to, too.” Indeed, no list includes the statement, “Given that I’m underpaid but, more than that, incredibly lazy, I have failed to provide criteria by which I make these choices,” a proviso that would ultimately kill the meme. Worse, authors of those lists provide no definition for ‘sucks’ or ‘rocks’ or even explain why an item gave them a tingly sensation in their nether parts. No, they just put an ordinal number out there and expect readers to assume some due diligence has been conducted.
4. Internet lists are written to make us feel like morons
Given that most list authors are hipsters (see #2), the inclusion of largely unknown allusions, items or factoids are de rigueur, added for the simple reason to exhibit the author’s superiority to the reader. More than that, the author assumes that dropping obscure references into the article will surely convince us that they must be an expert because, wow, what the hell are they talking about?
5. List authors have extremely limited experience and/or knowledge
Filled with the hubris that comes with being asked to compile a list and a $25 check signed by Arianna Huffington, the list author forges on with an idiotically restricted tally. What is supposed to be, “12 best brew pubs in America,” is actually, “12 best brew pubs I’ve visited around here in southern Illinois, where I live.” I just came across a “15 best cover songs ever,” list that made it dismally obvious the 20-something author thought popular music was invented by Madonna.
6. Lists are the refuge of lazy editors
It’s not just hard work culling through a substantive article – underlining assertions (to check facts), rearranging for the sake of clarity and separating the wheat from the chaff – but it requires years of education and experience be put to good use. And who wants to do any of that? Clock out, go have a few drinks and go home, that’s what we want. Lists save us almost any amount of effort while allowing us to sleep well knowing we paid the writer a crappy wage.
Likewise, lists save the reader any demand for critical thought or analysis. Lists are the Internet’s way of letting the Morlocks know that dinner is served.
(Cross posted on The Firebird Suite where I blog about parenting, politics and the 'Pffff' in Phoenix)