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(JOREN CULL FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(JOREN CULL FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

THE ESSAY

Fifteen reasons why there are so many lists on the Internet Add to ...

I think I may have cracked the code. The numerical answer to everything.

My epiphany came while reading an article I had lazily clicked on during a quick break from work.

I surfed one of my go-to aggregate news sites, and a headline immediately caught my eye: 7 Things I Decided Just Aren’t Worth the Stress. It was written by a young, pleasant-looking health blogger at the Huffington Post. Luckily, their blogs are accompanied by photos, so you can easily see there are real people writing them. She listed seven things she’d decided to stop stressing about after a horrific experience with hives that nearly reached her face.

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She is perhaps half my age – she made reference to her “boyfriend” and several other age-identifying things – so her stresses are probably not mine. But I read the entire piece anyway. I found it soothing. According to Thing 3, she’s not going to stress about not playing the piano. Thing 4 was not stressing about getting a disease by riding the subway. I can sort of relate.

I tried to stay focused on her article, but I found my eye and interest drifting off to the perimeter posts on the right-hand side of the Web page, and it was there that I noticed a startling thing – several of the articles had similar headings, using numbers to draw my attention: 6 Ways to Save Time at the Gym; 7 Myths of Meditation; 9 Strange Things You can Have Regularly Delivered to your Home.

Well, if there are only a few of them, I thought, surely I have time to read and learn. I was hooked. Twelve lists later, I had to stop for lunch. But first I switched to The Globe and Mail site and read 5 Dishes that Put the Sizzle in this Izakaya-style Menu.

While dining on a peanut butter-and-jam sandwich and dreaming of “bacon-wrapped scallops and enoki mushrooms,” I realized that I’ve been clicking on all sorts of similar, conveniently packaged posts not just on my favourite news sites, but other online places, too. In fact, I recently read 8 Mistakes You Should Never Make On LinkedIn, on LinkedIn. One of my top 10 LinkedIn Connections had reposted it from a Forbes Online piece. Number one on that list was, “Not using a picture.” Really, it was a list of the right things to do positioned negatively as mistakes you should never make. Some lists are a bit convoluted. I immediately took the photo of my dog off my profile and put on a more businesslike photo of my cat.

It would appear that the secret to facing our problems, managing our time and dealing with our dilemmas is a short list of solutions away. I just thought of an idea for an article: 8 Lists I Found On The Internet Today While Putting off the 10 Things I Need to do to Get Spring Cleaning off my List.

I have found myself reading lists that have no bearing on my life whatsoever. Like 14 Quirky Baby Boy Names (Abner was number one ). Now why would I need to read this? There are no people in my life having a baby other than my sister-in-law, and she’s having a girl. Who cares what those 14 names are? Why 14? I have to admit, they were quirky.

Then I switched over to 13 Things to do in Washington D.C. this Spring. Again, I’m not going to be in Washington this spring, summer, fall or winter, and why 13? That’s odd, don’t you think? The list includes a trip out of that city and also a visit to a fusion noodle house. Makes sense. If I ever go to Washington in the spring, by the way, I can Google this list of things to do because it will always be there on the long tail of the Internet.

I think I’ll write an article called 10 Lists You Don’t Need to Read Today. But first, I’m going to see if I can find some research on lists. Why am I drawn to them? Bestsellers, Nominees, Sexiest Men Alive? Well, that last one needs no explanation. What makes me want to write them? Is it a basic human need to make a list? Did our caveman ancestors use this kind of organizational thinking? Were those cave drawings just prehistoric lists in infographic form? 6 Things I’m Going to Hunt Today?

My research starts with a Google search of “lists on the Internet,” which turns up a list that’s 645-million results deep. Turns out Time Magazine’s online presence has lists that could take up quite a bit of my time. I exercised some restraint and only clicked on two of them – Legumes in the Limelight (a list of movies that have beans either in the title, in an actor’s name, or in the plot line) and Double Vision: The Top 10 Famous Twins. Neither of these topics is of any consequence to me, but they did lure me in for some inexplicable reason.

I guess lists give us bite-sized opportunities to learn, discover, help ourselves, and sometimes waste a little time. There is probably a list somewhere that talks about 6 Things You Can Do to Take Your Mind off Things You Should be Doing.

I really must get back to my job now, but first a to-do list: 10 Things I Need to Accomplish Before the Online News Site Refreshes itself and 10 More Topical Lists Show Up.

For some reason, I am thinking about the movie A Beautiful Mind, where the guy goes a bit wonky with numbers. It is one of my top 10 favourite movies, by the way.

Charlotte Phillips lives in Surrey, B.C.

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