A Top Ten State of Mind

I live and breathe for lists. I list everything. I keep my to-do list as my prized possession. In fact, writing this without using a list is proving incredibly difficult for me. With the help of the work and research of scholars, I’m hoping to convince you of the importance of lists. 

 So here goes nothing… These are my

Top 5 Reasons Why Lists Are Essential to Humanity.


1.    Essential to Modern Journalism.

I don’t care what anyone says. In this day and age we want information and we want it NOW. This is why social media outlets such as Twitter have evolved in such a way. Top Ten lists, in turn, grab the attention of readers. In fact, Top Tens more often than not bring the most amount of traffic to particular sites and blogs as they prove to be in tune with our addictive nature as humans. Somehow only reading until number 8 on People’s “Top Ten Sexiest Men” would be considered a modern travesty. In fact, people are more likely to click a Top Ten link online than a hefty article. Stuart Fischoff, an expert in media and psychology, comments on humanity’s struggle to juggle information. He responds that, “if we can break things up into chunks of meaningful data, it’s much easier for us to store and remember them.” He remarks that this is precisely why the Top Ten has become increasingly popular in journalism. And more importantly why we, as a fast-paced culture, with a steady flow of information consuming our lives, find ourselves attracted to this structure.


2.    Essential to Culture.

“The list is the origin of culture.” Philosopher and scholar, Umberto Eco, claims this statement. He explains that culture desires to “make infinity comprehensible.” Put simply: we want to make sense of our lives. Through lists we’re able to grasp what is incomprehensible. We can dissect what we may not understand and gain new knowledge, which is essential to the development of our societies. Eco further comments that, “The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. The list is the mark of a highly advanced, cultivated society because a list allows us to question the essential definitions. The essential definition is primitive compared with the list.” The list literally adds an efficient aspect to our culture. Through lists, we create culture by making sense of all that is happening around us.


3.    Essential to Literature.

Outlines are essentially fancy lists aren’t they? People have been using outlines for years to organize their thoughts. Academically we use them to draw attention to main points and important nuances of our studies. However, lists are a distinct part of literature beyond this. Look back on all of the Shakespeare you may have read in your life. He often uses lists of phrases within his prose starting with “and.” Eco tells us to envision a lover describing his loved one “her smile…and her eyes…and her hair that…and…” This is an aspect of literature, specifically poetry, that we can easily recognize. So, lists are poetic, lists have been essential to literature, lists are an integral part of the way we create and write.


4.    Essential to History.

Lists have been around since the beginning of time! Really! In the Book of Genesis the world creation plan consisted of a six-step list. This goes back to the writers of the Bible. If this isn’t convincing enough, I’m not sure what is. Lists have been present throughout history from the 10 Commandments to the 10 Amendments of the Bill of Rights. A proven way to process and record information in the past is the new basis of writing and storing information for the future. Umberto Eco comments that we can find lists if we look to any part of cultural history. He calls the Baroque era “an age of lists.” As definitions were disproved and replaced by new ones, lists proved to be a revolutionary way to process all of these changes. He explains how anything from a series of historic paintings to Galileo’s detailed records about the moon should be considered lists.


5.    Essential to Sanity.

Personally I’m fairly certain that I would not be able to function without using lists in my day-to-day life. But, I’m not alone. Studies have proven that writing down tasks stimulates cells in the reticular activating system of our brains to filter all that’s necessary for the brain to process. In other words, when we write things down, we’re more likely to feel compelled to complete them. As these lists leave us craving the rest of the points until we finish, To-Do lists do this even more. The feeling of guilt one has when they have not yet crossed off a particular task or assignment is irreplaceable. In fact, this is a real thing called the Zeigarnik Effect, which is the medical name for this tendency to dwell on incomplete tasks. We’re not crazy! When we don’t complete our lists, we often drive ourselves utterly mad. Lists have always and will always drive me mad. They encompass my life and are my obsessive way of analyzing the world around me.  However, I know I’m not alone. Top Ten lists are on the rise. In our society where we demand the world to be composed in a concise and accessible way, Top Tens are the perfect outlet. I hope my blog will bring satisfaction to you in trying to bring some sanity to the crazy blogosphere covering the Internet today. So feel free to join me and I encourage you open yourselves up to this obsessive Top Tens state of mind.


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