Recently, I read a great post by my friend Jessica that really got me thinking. She tackled the topic of lists–namely, the ones that have been suffusing the interwebs of late. Like Jessica, I’ve noticed that blogs, Facebook, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and any number of other venues are loving the HECK out of lists these days. Lists for twenty-somethings, lists for new moms, lists for lifehackers, lists for college students. Everything was lists and nothing hurt. Especially when there were gifs. There should always be gifs.
I’ve gotta say, I’m extremely okay with this current profusion of lists. My love for lists is deep and abiding, so much so that I generally seem to leave a trail of them wherever I go. There are lists in my purse, on my bedside table, in my journal, in each of my myriad email accounts, covering my desk at work in a vaguely decipherable patchwork of sticky notes. They help me capture my racing thoughts and tame the many stray bits of information that it’s essential for me to remember (which is important when you’re the kind of person who’d forget your own head if it weren’t firmly attached to your body…).
Because of my love for lists, I believe in the power of them, and I tend to put a lot of faith in their ability to make sense of things. Their structure, their simple elegance, their succinctness, the satisfaction they afford when it comes time to cross something off of them–it’s like taking a particularly confusing or amorphous piece of life and packing it up into a neat, easy-to-understand box.
And that, in a nutshell, is what seems to me to be the driving force behind this current list-mania. Silly, gif-laden lists like this one or this one are just pure fun, and they’re appealing because they provide a quick, condensed way to get a little dose of humor. But when it comes to how-to or advice-giving lists, we crave that sense of structure, even when it comes from some random denizen of the internet who could be making stuff up to amuse themselves, for all we know. There’s something so attractive about reading through such a list, about seeing how you measure up to the guidelines it lays out, about using them as a benchmark to see how far you still have to go.
I’ve realized that, when I encounter a list that I find particularly applicable–for example, the endless parade of “How to Life” lists for twenty-somethings, or similarly, the “Sucky Things about Being Twenty-something” lists–I immediately zero in and start thinking about the ways each item applies to me–or doesn’t, as the case may be–and what that means for me, even if it’s something completely trivial.
For me, the charm of these lists lies in the reassuring feeling of having something, anything, to use as a way to get my bearings–to take my pulse, as it were, during this wildly uncertain time of life. It’s a snapshot view of how I measure up to those like me and those who have gone before me. Sometimes the lists address something that I’m too afraid or embarrassed to ask about, sometimes they take something ordinary and spin it in a way I’ve never considered before, and sometimes they simply feel like a confirmation that I’m on the right track. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not patterning my life around random lists created by some Joe Schmo I came across on the internet, and they’re not the only, nor the first, place I go for advice; not by a long shot. I suppose what I’m saying is that, for whatever it’s worth, there are definitely a few bits of wisdom I’ve gleaned from these lists that have stuck with me long after I took in the pithy, staccato sound bites they comprised, and it’s the hope that I’ll find more such bits that keeps me coming back.
However, there is a downside to this desire for structure–amid my enthusiasm for lists, it’s sometimes hard to cull the good from the bad. As evidenced by this list about things to do before marriage that Jessica mentioned in her post, you may find gems like “Face one of your biggest fears. Be it skydiving, public speaking, or dining in public alone” (pretty decent advice, by all accounts), but there are also questionable items like “Try having a friend with benefits. If only to make sure that friend you always had a crush on doesn’t somehow become ‘the one who got away.'” (Um, no.), and oftentimes, both types even show up in the same list. Because it’s easy to take these lists in at a glance, sometimes the less-worthy stuff can slip by. The more I read these things, though, the more I’m aware of the fact that they should be taken with a big hunk of salt.
So what does it all mean? How should we forge ahead into this endless sea of lists? Well, I leave you with this one to sum it up. Because I love lame jokes, and so do you, or you would never visit this blog…
1. Like anything, this trend has its good and its bad points. Have fun diving into lists, but watch out for the occasional leech (and the occasional bad metaphor. They are also treacherous…).
2. Come for the gifs, stay for the epiphanies (few and far between though they may sometimes be).
3. There’s a definite difference between good advice and platitudes, though it’s a fine line sometimes.
4. Something that’s good advice for someone might not be for you; if something seems off, it probably is, even if the rest of the list is sound.
5. And most importantly, don’t take lists (or yourself) too seriously! Ain’t nobody got time for that.