What is this relatively recent obsession we have with numbers and lists? A few years ago I sat in a meeting discussing digital content on newspaper websites and learned that readers just love headlines that promise a specific number of points in a story. The presenters did not offer a reason, but had research to back up their assertion.
It’s a fascination that I don’t understand but, admittedly, it certainly isn’t new. Music lovers have always found an appeal in Top 40s, Top 20s, Top 10s. Heck, I spent New Year’s Day in 1967 and 1968 trying to write down the list of CKXL’s Top 100 songs of the year (then I learned you could go down to the radio station and pick up a printed copy, and the pressure was off).
New Year is always a fertile time for lists and numbers. We count down from 10 to ring in a new year and we itemize resolutions about how we are going to change our lives, perhaps still in the mode that was ingrained as children, when we listed our wants in letters to Santa. New Year is the time that I start going through Top 10 or 25 movies of the previous year in various publications so that we can watch many of them.
But still, it’s the digital age that has turned list making into a year-round habit. Last week I scrolled through the Sportsnet TV web site and in short order found:
4 things we learned in the NHL: the Flyers’ goalie carousel continues
NHL Power Rankings: 31 Unofficial Mid-Year Awards
3 things we learned in the NHL: Kane passes the Golden Jet
31 Thoughts: Petterson-McDavid could test year-end awards thinking
NHL’s Top 12 UFAs of 2019: Latest rumours, reports
Makes sense there though, doesn’t it? Other than mathematicians, sports fans are probably the most obsessed group when it comes to statistics. But the fascination doesn’t stop on sports sites.
My favourite newspaper, the New York Times, stodgy in some of its ways, has jumped on the bandwagon:
The 20 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos”
10 Artists to Watch in 2019
52 Places to Go in 2019
9 Questions to Ask Before Booking a Wedding Site
Huffpost, the popular Internet news site, offered 6 Facts About “Killing Eve” Star Sandra Oh That Might Surprise You but, surprisingly for a digital-only “newspaper”, no other list on the particular day I checked.
The Chicago Tribune, which was once a kind of sister paper of the Advance—we shared the same ownership for a time—chimed in last week with:
‘Football is what I do. It’s not who I am:’ 5 things we learned from Cody Parkey on his ‘Today’ show appearance (Parkey got death threats after he clanked a field goal attempt off the goal post and crossbar, ending his Chicago Bears football team’s Super Bowl hopes for this year).
The Trib also offered: 13 ways to get cozy in your Chicago space and
5 things to do this weekend in Chicago.
Readers Digest tantalized readers with The 18 Things Chefs Buy at Costco.
My working theory is that stories that are made into lists are a lure for what I think of as the ADHD generation of readers who can’t (or won’t) focus for any length of time on anything but a video game. Promises of lists are likely both inviting and reassuring. The smaller numbers would be especially appealing.
But why I need to know ahead that by clicking on the story I will get 52 recommendations about where to travel his year, or that I will get 31 opinions on sports and athletes is baffling to me. Do the digital headline writers (you will find fewer list promises in print editions) think that I am going to count the items as I read? Do I get a rebate on the cost of my subscription to the New York Times if the promised number falls short?
As I age, I will admit that I rely more on lists that I used to. I do make a list of movies and TV shows I want to watch because I will inevitably forget some. And when we are going on a trip I now tend to jot down a list of things to pack or chores to do before leaving.
I am not quite at the point that a friend got to when his vehicle’s dashboard featured a dozen or more Post-It Notes at any given time. Not to say I won’t get to that point, though.