Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why We Love Lists

I don't know.

I don't know why we love lists, but I was hoping I could get some ideas. Of course, most of you won't read this now because it's not a list, but at the very least, the page view will count, so thanks. This post is not the first time you've become privy to the concept of the internet-list-as-means-of-conveying-everything, and I know that because you have eyes and you have a computer and you're a person. Maybe I'm being presumptuous; maybe I'm not taking into account that you are the one person who has not fallen prey to hours and hours of your life disappearing into the ether on account of reading some lists. I'm sorry, person. I'm sorry you're not like the rest of us.

And now for the rest of us! I ask you to look at the lists you currently have open on your browser. I'll go first: A complete list of every book referenced on Orange is the New Black, a list of secrets about Breaking Bad (I don't watch Breaking Bad), and yet another list with 20-somethings as both the subject and audience. This one focuses on how I will for SURE fuck up everything because something precious about being dependent on my dad's wallet or some bullshit because...millennials? I am sneering at the latter list, and that's because I kind of hate it. I can only speak for myself (but if you want me to speak for you, too, let me know) but I am so done with this assumption--created and cast by the internet--that I am struggling the most on account of being 23 and female. Not every list targets women, of course, but the content of these lists is can be pretty gendered. And when I use "struggle," I mean it in the most shallow way possible, like it's cute or it's some kind of fun thing that we are "lucky enough" to experience. My definition of "struggle," as I'm using it above, was informed by these very lists, the ones that also assume I am cute and I am shallow and I am playing grown-up. As far as I'm concerned, it's  a farce to assume that all 20-somethings achieve "grown-up" status at the same time. It's also really ignorant from gender, class, and racial standpoints--painting with a broad brush isn't especially effective or sensitive. The point I'm getting at is that it's insulting for anyone to assume we're ("we" being the list's target audience) all sitting in the "real-world" and crying because we don't know how to buy stamps. I'm tired of the internet telling me I should always have frozen vegetables in my freezer; I'm tired of the internet telling me to go to Europe for six months because that's probably the only thing I can do really well right now; and I'm especially tired of the internet telling me I'm totally unqualified to be a semi-functioning member of society. I don't know everything. Jesus, of course I don't know everything. I just know the things I know, and I'm doing fine.

Here's a stock photo of young adults having fun. This looks like you and your friends, right?

And now I'm using the internet to talk at you, too!

There's no denying the hypocrisy in using my web-based blog, a thing that is inherently self-serving, to talk about how crappy the internet can be. Let's just chalk it up to being self-referential, meta even, and carry on. I'd also like to go ahead and point out that the solution to my anxiety is to stop looking at lists. I know that. But if I did that, then...what would I have to bitch about? And what would I have blogged about instead of the internet? My five year reunion? The fact that I didn't wear a bra to my five year reunion? The fact that I'm now wondering who I told I wasn't wearing a bra, probably between my rum and Coke and my Jack and Coke, before we took a group picture that is for SURE the drunkest but I have to send to the alumni magazine anyway? Is that when I told someone I wasn't wearing a bra? I don't know, you guys. I just don't know.

I really am curious as to why the list format has taken off so wildly. If I find myself in a rabbit-hole of pop culture lists, I can easily lose hours. Now, that is my wheelhouse. I have read every 90s related list out there, especially if I sense the eventual mention of Pacey Witter. Okay so...easily accessible nostalgia? Is that a reason lists are great? Does it also have to do with the fact that all of the people who are currently compiling and writing content for these kinds of things are exactly our age, making the lists exactly accurate?

Remember when I Love the 80s would play for hours on VH1? And it was really fun and Michael Ian Black totally got the most air time, but only because he deserved it? We were too young for it all, but it felt so close, like if I could just stretch my fingers out a little further, I could touch the 80s and be in on all the jokes. Okay, so these pop culture lists? The ones we're looking at now and totally loving? They're our jokes, guys! We're finally a part of the nostalgia jokes! We get it because we lived it. Speaking of nostalgia, yeah, I owned a TalkGirl. I recorded hours of fake celebrity interviews on that baby. I am pretty positive that nine-year-old Katie was like, "So, Katie Holmes, tell me about the cool, teenager things that happen on Dawson's Creek." No regrets.

This is Hal Sparks, who was actually my favorite talking head on I Love the 80s.

What else?

Attention span. I mean, is it really an attention span issue? I think that some would agree, and for good reason, that we are extremely used to quickly and efficiently controlling all of the things happening in our digital lives. So when we get bored, we zone out. I get it. I, personally, think it has more to do with being busy, with budgeting time differently, with wanting to turn off our brains at the end of the day. Sometimes, I really don't want to dedicate a lot of myself to the things I read. Are lists our generation's version of airplane literature?

What else?

They are so fun, come on. Even the ones that are more life-lessons than pop culture are really fun. And there's one for everything, which means you can search "Rookie of the Year Buzzfeed" (or whatever) and something will appear. And you don't even have to go plot point by plot point because someone already took the time to make all those fun gifs. But if you really want to know about Rookie of the Year, just ask me. The first time I went to Wrigley Field, I just texted my brother the whole time, telling him where I was standing and where Henry would be at that exact moment.

Yeah, guys, he did. (ROTY)

Do we like to feel like we're a part of a greater community than the one in which we actually live? Like we are all part of the 20-somethings who need 20 ways to make sense of our liberal arts degrees? Like we are all part of the universal cat-loving community? Like we belong somewhere, maybe, but if we don't, it's okay because so many other people like this list, too? I think we've all had that moment in which we can't believe how perfectly specific a list is to an inside joke with a friend. It reminds us that we're all thinking the same thing, fearing the same thing, missing the same thing. To varying degrees, of course.

I'm pretty freaked out by any form of confessional social media. Is this post confessional? Not really, it's just wordy. I'm just being ranty and attempting to make sense of something. The closest I get to confessional social media is when I live-tweet Mighty Ducks 2, in which case, I am deadly serious about that shit. (See? Nostalgia does power the internet.) It's not that emotions displayed on the internet that make me feel uncomfortable, as is the case with so many 20-something lists. I just don't understand why anyone would want to share said emotions. I do, however, understand why so many people like that type of thing. It's just that I, personally, don't get the angle and I don't get the objective.

Oh, and they're condescending as shit.

This is Guy Germaine, and he was this close! (D2)

But maybe this is too, you know? You might feel condescended by me and that's cool. Perhaps it's arrogant of me to think that anyone reading this is on remotely the same page as me. But that's what the internet is for, right? Reaching out and then never knowing if you were seen or heard, if even for a second, by someone, anywhere, who might be able to relate to you? I think that's what makes it fun.

The other day, I walked to get lunch with a friend from work. When we arrived, we stood in front of a glass case of beautiful pies. I asked, "You gonna get some pie?" She said, "No, I don't want to get into another thing." "Yeah," I said, "that's why I haven't started The Wire. I don't want to get into it." Maybe there's just too much out there--don't even get me started on my television anxiety--and perhaps organizing it all into tidy, numbered lists is what allows us to process.

I don't know why we love lists. Maybe because they're so simple, and it's the brain firing off ideas in rapid succession with limited editing. I don't hate them all, not by a long shot. A lot of them are really, really good and I like the communities they bring together online. I like that people feel like they're a part of something. I think they're popular because of the reasons mentioned above. Or maybe they're popular for none of the reasons above. I only know what I know. Like this: I'm handwriting this entry in a notebook, as I do most things. That's how I allow my brain to process. That's how I make sense of things. My brain needs to understand that my hand is producing the work before it can tell the rest of my senses to believe it. We're all just trying to process, I think. We're all just trying to do something.

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