How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. No, really, let me count the ways. Everybody makes lists. We love them – grocery, favorite and bucket. In their best form, they help us to stay focused and live by priorities set by our earlier selves. In their worst form, they become false gods leading us to believe that having lists, alone and in themselves, is sufficient. Isn’t the point of lists the actions that are required to complete them and not just their creation?
Regardless, lists now clutter the media, social or otherwise, with full lists dedicated to the “best lists on the internet.” Sure, it can be fun to imagine the 10 top songs of the decade or the 100 most popular names for our poodle. But in a world where our attention is sold by technology companies like cans of tomatoes, every time we click, someone makes money. And lists are the ultimate clickbait device. Following a list requires a different button to proceed from Item 1 to Item 2. The more we click, the more they profit.
Universities, towns, cities, pop stars, and even the producers of “Survivor Island” understand the perception value of being at the top of the list, and the web is only too eager to gain from it. Do lists have any value? Can we rely upon their accuracy, upon the design of their criteria, or even the bias of their survey? Do we know the legitimate standards by which to judge anything as “the best” or “the worst?” Even as we assume that lists are innocuous little helpers, are they giving much upon which to depend? Or do they mislead us into a trap of overconfidence? This column now includes everything on its draft list, so it must be complete, right?