What is it with all these “list” blogs? Why are they tweeted and retweeted, perused and shared and fired all over the web? I’ll tell you why. In fact, I’ll give you a list of Five Features that Make Lists Irresistible. Oh, even better — I’ll make them five fascinating features. Because alliteration is an irresistible feature all its own.
Before I began this blog entry, for example, I didn’t have my five “features” figured out. I still don’t have them figured out. I just started this list believing in my heart that the “features” would emerge. And lo and behold, one has. So, first and foremost, lists are easy. That’s probably the feature that makes them irresistible to bloggers.
If a list sounds like it might be long, and even if it also sounds like it might be dull — 100 Reasons to Eat Oatmeal, or something like that — the very fact that it has a number attached to it is reassuring. Hey, how dull could it be? It won’t go on forever. There are only 100 entries in the list. And look, they’re all numbered.
No, that’s not a word. But you know what I mean. The great thing about a list, especially a “to do” or a “tips” list, is that you can check the items off as you do them. There are few sights more satisfying than a completely checked-off list. So if somebody offers you a list of The Ten Books You Must Read Before You Die, or Six Steps to a Flatter Belly, or whatever it may be, checking the items off, one by one, gives a pleasant illusion of accomplishment … even if you don’t end up dead or thin once you’ve checked them all.
At the heart of every list is a mystery. A question. A puzzle that the list promises to solve. The title is a teaser, if you will, much like a movie trailer. As soon as you read the list’s title, your brain engages. (“I didn’t know there were 100 reasons to eat oatmeal. What could they possibly be?”) And as you begin to read the blog, your brain continues running on a parallel track. (“I bet one of them is the cholesterol thing.”) When you reach the end of the list, your sensations resemble those experienced when reaching the end of an Agatha Christie tale. (“Well, I’ll be darned.”)
It’s much easier to digest lists than essays. There’s something about those little bite-sized nuggets marching down the page in numbered, generally short, paragraphs that makes a list adhere to our neurons. Or something. Whether it’s opinions or advice, information, handy tips, must-read, must-do, must-see, anything and everything that is compilable into a list becomes … well … readable. A list enters your brain in short bursts, like Morse Code. As opposed to a newspaper article, for instance, which glides past your eyeballs in long sweeps interrupted by complicated page-turnings (involving hunting, page-counting, folding, and a distracting rattling noise).
So there you have it. Five things we love about lists.
And yes, I was grinning evilly as I typed this.