Enough With The Lists

As if there aren’t enough examples of information overload in our lives. Our iPod’s hold 50,000 songs. Our cameras take 2,000 pictures. And the list goes on. And speaking of lists, I’ve grown to hate the list-ification of information. “10 Things That…” or “20 Reasons Why…” And so on.

And then you’ve got the grandaddy of all lists: Smashing Magazine. Mostly geared towards web design and development, their lists are frickin’ huge. I dutifully bookmark half their lists because…umm….I swear I’m going to need them later. I’m sure of it.

The image “http://www.menonthemove.com/images/Storage_01.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.And so, I’m left with this big list of lists (or links to lists) that serves more as a sort of security blanket than as some valued information source. Just as Americans keep piling on stuff and putting it into storage (the storage business is booming these days), we just keep accumulating stuff with the desired intention to consume it later. The problem is we can’t possibly consume at the pace we’re producing.

So do we throw it all out? Nope. We store it. The same goes for information on the web. There’s too much of it…and in a lot of cases the stuff is actually pretty good. So we collect it for umm…future consumption (at least that’s what we tell ourselves).

The result is the de-valuation of information. It’s less about the quality of any discrete piece of content and more about the numbing consequence of sheer abundance. I’ll close with a quote from Will Sheff, the front man for the rock band Okkervil River. Here he’s talking about file sharing, bootlegs and digital media in general, but he stumbles on this very topic:

The Internet – with its glut not only of information but of misinformation, and of information that is only slightly correct, or only slightly incorrect – fills me with this same weird mixture of happiness and depression. I sometimes feel drowned in information, deadened by it. How many hundreds of bored hours have you spent mechanically poring through web pages not knowing what you’re looking for, or knowing what you’re looking for but not feeling satisfied when you find it? You hunger but you’re not filled. Everything is freely available on the Internet, and is accordingly made inestimably valuable and utterly value-less.

18 Comments Enough With The Lists

  1. Darren

    And speaking of lists, I’ve grown to hate the list-ification of information. “10 Things That…” or “20 Reasons Why…” And so on.
    You just saved me time from blogging about this exact thing. Seems like every webdev blog out there (and even del.icio.us’s “popular” tag feed) is culling these same lists in order to drive traffic. They can be helpful, but they’re getting redundant.

  2. Andrew

    I came across this while organizing my 172 feeds in my Bloglines account and moving all 600+ of my saved posts and sorting them into clippings.
    Fully believing I will need each and every one, at some point…maybe…
    I mean wouldn’t it suck if I did need them and couldn’t find them? ….right?…

  3. Rich Ziade

    I think what frustrates me the most is this hopeful belief that INSIDE of all that junk is something really great. Therefore I must keep everything….just in case.

  4. Dick C. Flatline

    Sorry I haven’t had time to post my “Top 50 Lists of Other Cretinous Lists”, but I’ve been busy installing another 50 list-management extensions into Firefox for Skateboards.
    Who says the end of a great civilization can’t be entertaining?

  5. Nick Dominguez

    I think there is a fair amount of psychology within this topic. There’s an explosion of information on the web happening right now, some of the driving factors: rss, widgets and social networks. You sorta hit the nail on the head, we’re all running around in fear that we’re going to “miss out” on something and we don’t even know what that is. It’s almost like we’re all little kids discovering a new toy for the first time, we want to do it all all the time.
    I think we’ll mature as consumers on the web and realize that we don’t have to bookmark every list that comes out and we don’t have to subscribe to ever interesting feed that comes across our laps. Hopefully at the same time some of this explosion will die down and bring some sense of normality to the web.
    This is my hope at least.

  6. Rich Ziade

    Yeh – I wonder how we’re going to respond to it. Sites like DIgg try to address it by mining social activity around all the stuff flying around. So that helps…
    …except now Digg is itself just a massive collection of lists. :P

  7. Angus McIntyre

    I think you put into words what a lot of us have been thinking. Ironically, the one source that you single out by name – Smashing Magazine – is pretty much the only ‘list publisher’ that I still pay attention to. Their lists are large, but they are also carefully selected, categorized and commented. They’re a far cry from the “437 web resources every developer should know about” lists that seem to make up about half the traffic on Digg on any given day and most of which seem to be filler material for AdSense farms.
    So I tend to ignore the rest and just squirrel away the Smashing Magazine stuff for … well, sometime later. And I plan to go through it all and check out the best parts, just as soon as I’ve finished this list of “100 best Smashing Magazine articles that every web designer must read” that I’m working on.

  8. Rich Ziade

    I completely agree. Smashing makes it really hard to say no b/c they really seem to put the effort in. I still tend to file it away for future consumption though.

  9. Hamish M

    Do you think you could post the top 10 reasons why you don’t like these lists?
    Haha, but honestly, I have to agree with you — these lists are becoming more prolific than porn (ok, maybe not porn, but they aren’t far behind…)

  10. Robert J

    Oh man, do I agree.
    On the plus side, I think I’ve reached a point where my brain actually filters out anything with a headline that goes # [Plural Noun] [Stuff]
    But I swear, next time I see “23 Ways to Manage Your E-mail” – I’m gonna snap. That topic is DONE! I want to see “7 Ways To Stop Writing Blog Posts About a Number of Ways To Manage Your E-mail”

  11. Danno

    Ehhh. I ninja stuff into their proper places. If I never get around to reading something, I take it off my toread tag and it just gets stuffed in the various reference piles.
    Everything with a feed goes into the feed reader, properly tagged. Stuff that updates way too frequently gets slopped into a deluge bin where I can safely ignore it until I’m willing to do a sprint.
    Man, I dunno, I just do it quickly and don’t get lost in it. Reddit, Digg and ilk are the real danger.


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