The top 5 reasons I hate lists

How I schedule my day. (courtesy of

How I schedule my day. (courtesy of

I spend a lot of time online these days, between reading email and cruising the Internet in search of gainful employment. And I’ve arrived at one immutable and irrefutable conclusion… lists suck. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to argue. Feel free to accuse me of crimes against the Internet for dressing down the vaunted list – king of the blog post and online article – in the public square. But know deep down in your heart that I’m still right and you’re still wrong. [Note: For the record, I’m rubber and you’re glue too.]

I can’t open an email message or click a link without coming across a list disguised as an article. How to write a blog post… how to find a job… how to write a resume… 10 best ways to do just about anything. These lists are everywhere in my world, and most of them are bad retreads of bad retreads. Some ex-hippie with a ponytail turned corporate guru with a ponytail discovered (or decided) that information is more digestible in list form. He wrote an article. Someone cited that article. David Letterman adopted the theory for comedy. And before your friendly neighborhood unemployed blogger could come to the rescue, the world was overrun with lists of all shapes and sizes. The list has become the scourge of the online written word. But breathe easy, I’m here to take a golf club to its back window.

Allow me to present the top 5 reasons I hate lists, in an easily digestible format but no particular order…

  1. Lists are lazy. The Internet is awash in re-purposed content. Everyone wants a blog or website and the untold riches that accompany it. Just look at me… I haven’t worked a single day in the last year. No one wants to create the content for that blog or website. It takes time and effort to write, and most of that time and effort goes unpaid. So they steal, borrow or quote extensively from other sources. Or they make a list from the stolen, borrowed and quoted and pass it off as original material.
  2. Lists cover up bad writing. Write the whole damn paragraph, not just the topic sentence. This shouldn’t be a problem, if the author has thought through his ideas and has a decent grasp of the English language. Some complete sentences would be nice too. As would a few transitions, to take the reader from one idea to the next.
  3. Lists don’t convey enough information to be useful. A bulleted list of topic sentences for would-be paragraphs is fine for a PowerPoint presentation. The speaker adds in the relevant details, while directing attention with a red laser pointer that always makes me think there’s a sniper in the crowd. But this approach doesn’t work so well online. Lists give the reader the what, without the who, where, why and how. Links may lead to additional information on other pages of the site. “Click here for more information,” the screen beckons. But why isn’t that information found on the original page? Answer: to increase website traffic and click-through rates.
  4. Lists tell me things I already know. This is more a function of the lists I’m reading than lists in general. Only so much can be said about how to network, write a resume or become a better job candidate. Yet people keep saying it, over and over and over and over. Job search methods just aren’t changing that fast. So either come up with something new and interesting or stop pinging me with the same old advice. I already know to spell-check my resume.
  5. Lists are boring. No one reads lists for fun. We read fleshed-out paragraphs strung together into some sort of narrative. People read lists for information on how to do something or how to do something better. And sometimes we get that information and smile because we’re happy. We may even accidentally enjoy reading the list. But potential enjoyment isn’t what got us there and will soon be taking us away to ESPN or The Onion.
  6. Lists create anxiety. Lists remind me of all the things I have left to do rather than all the things I’ve done. One task – find a job – has locked down pole position for over a year. And my list keeps growing, even as I check things off. I feel further behind every day.
  7. Lists remind me of the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, I like the grocery store; there’s lots of yummy food there. But many of my trips to the grocery store involve lists of vegetables and spices needed for a recipe. And I can never remember what’s what. It’s all green and leafy and looks kind of the same to me. If only they packaged veggies like cereal… I could identify the kale or arugula from a goofy cartoon martian on the packaging. Sometimes I figure it out on my own, and sometimes I don’t. But the uncertainty provides undue stress.
  8. Lists speed up life unnecessarily. No one has time to read anymore, not even us unemployed. So people scan emails and articles on PDAs while walking down busy city streets, running into people and glaring at them because that person didn’t get out of the way. Lists facilitate and perpetuate this behavior. Lists make it easy to “read” what should be saved for later, back at the office, where I’m not walking.
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One Comment

  1. Jim Goins wrote:

    Lists are a little annoying, but they do serve to keep us on track to some extent.

    How about a list of available jobs?

    That’s where I got my job!

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink