This list thing is driving me a little crazy…
Every now and then something pops up that really gets to me and today it’s this entire list thing. The longest, shortest, biggest, smallest. The best, worse, favorite, loudest. The scariest, saddest, craftiest and coolest. Lists…I think I hate them, although I’ll shamefully admit to enjoying David Letterman’s Top 10 list. from time to time.
The word “list” can be tracked back to William Shakespeare, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In Hamlet, the Bard refers to “a list of landlesse resolutes.” Notable list makers include Thomas Jefferson, Peter Mark Roget, Martha Stewart and Benjamin Franklin.
We owe our current fascination with lists to the series “The Book of Lists” which was first published in 1977. This was compiled by David Wallechinsky, Irving and Amy Wallace. “People are attracted to lists because we live in an era of over stimulation, especially in terms of information,” says Wallechinsky. “And lists help us in organizing what is otherwise overwhelming.”
If you Google “list” you’ll get 1, 870,000,000 hits and since No Depression started to do their daily lists, that could add another 365 new ones just this year. I guess lists have some importance in our lives but sometimes they bother me. Like the one that ND threw out today on Facebook….your three worst songs.
Isn’t that sort of an oxymoron…especially within a community that professes and espouses a love of music? But the funny thing…I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a quick response from so many folks. People just seemed delighted to shout out what they thought is just plain bad music. I chose not to participate (although I usually do with the ND lists) and one of our folks wrote “this thread just makes me sad”.
Well…me too, Carol.
So anyway, in my Google search (which is just a another list) I found some reasons why people like lists so much. So I cut and pasted…and made another list.
-Lists condense complex information into a simple form.
-List-making lets you carve an identity from the glut of cultural artifacts out there (books, songs, movies – even geocoded, miniaturized, graffiti manga). No one can listen to every piece of recorded music, but anyone can make a list of their favorites.
-Lists impress people during dinner parties. Sure.
-Making a list is a way to editorialize about yourself while not actually saying anything about yourself.
-Lists are tiny coded messages that mean everything to a targeted audience and nothing to everyone else.
-Lists are a form of prediction; they implicitly inscribe the future.
-Writing a list is a tidy way to summarize the past. The grocery list was created as a recall device, and the Favorites list records yesterday’s desires.
-Lists are itty-bitty utopias, perfectly structured with mathematical elegance.
-Lists bring order to chaos.
-Lists help us remember things
-Most lists are finite. They don’t usually go on and on. And if they do, you can skip to the bottom of the list.
-Lists can be meaningful. Consider: Schindler’s List
-Lists can be as long or as short as necessary.
-Making lists can help make you famous.
-Lists relieve stress and focus the mind.
-Lists can force people to say revealing things.
-Lists can keep us from procrastinating.
-We classify what does and does not belong on the list, then put what does belong there in proper order, everything in its place. There is pleasure in this activity.
-We get to make value judgments.
-There is usually collective authorship in making a list, even if it’s credited to just one person. And the chief motive in doing it is to share our enthusiasms with others.
-When we’re reading (not making) the lists, we find they are never right. Part of the appeal is realizing what you would have come up with.
-Ten is a good happy number. The number 10 (or its “equivalent” as “base”) can be found in every counting system on earth. Ten means many, but not too many.
-It comforts us to know where things fit in the pecking order.
-Because it frees up our mind to think about bigger things like, where did I put that darn list?