9 Reasons Numbered Lists Bug The Hell Out Of Me

Unless you don't read, don't watch TV, or live under a rock, you've seen a numbered list recently. They're everywhere! Every. Where. If you're a blogger, as I am, or a reader of blogs and online "news," current events, etc sites, then you probably come across one of these lists daily: 15 Mistakes New Cooks Make (Um, they're new cooks, right? Must we judge?); 12 Reasons You Should Dress Like a Drag Queen (I'm sure there are 12 reasons, but unless you're a Drag Queen, why would you?)- You get the idea. Everything is a list these days, and it seems that's what people want: short soundbytes about virtually every conceivable topic.

Admittedly, I've read more than a few of these lists. They're easy; they're slick; they are for idiots. That's right, my wording may be harsh, but I think these lists are for people who don't really want to understand something, they just want a quick fix. I think they've become the "Idiot's Guide To..." virtually any news, media, anything in print. And OK, I even get that. Who doesn't like an easy road round to things? But ultimately, don't these lists just keep us on that slippery slope of only half engaged? Let's be honest, while we complain that teens can only pay attention in short bursts, aren't we all more likely to watch/read/listen to anything these days if it neatly packaged in a short, sweet fix? That, in my opinion is what these lists are all about: spoon-feeding information to us in the easiest, most palatable dose.

Recently I was clicking on links, another short cut we all do now- we're fed some news item on our Facebook page, or the actual news page, and from there it's a veritable rabbit hole of links. By the time you end up on some twisted site about how dogs are tortured, you've probably seen all kinds of inside out items you never would have searched for, and you might have adopted a puppy. Click, click. Anyway, I started out reading a story about a recent school shooting here in Washington state, and I quickly found myself on Another News Feed (in fairness, I'll leave the name out, as they are not the only ones), reading a story about how teens around the country are tweeting photos of their less than appetizing-healthier school lunches to the hashtag #thanksmichelleobama- because, well, if it's not President Obama's fault, it's surely his wife's- right? (#causeitsgottobesomeonesfaultformyapathy). As I perused the others stories on this site, I was struck by the copious selection of numbered lists- I mean, endless numbered lists!

In one column on this particular site these were the numbered lists: 12 Jobs You Didn't Know People Had (there must be more than 12!); 7 Moments That Constantly Hungry People Will Recognize (um, truly hungry people recognize only that they are starving); 19 Things That Are The Literal Worst (I wonder if they mean literally or figuratively?); 34 Moments That Made You Realize You Were Totally A Lesbian (If I read all 34, will I inadvertently become a lesbian?); 24 Moments That Will Make You Rethink This Whole Having Kids Thing (someone got that down to 24?); 13 Celeb Siblings Who Are Honestly The Same Person (honestly?); 21 Things That Only Identical Twins Understand (if I'm not an identical twin, what's the point of reading this one? Apparently, I won't understand it); 16 Times One Direction's "Night Changes" Video Made You Want To Scream (so, if I read this, will I scream 16 times?), and (drum roll please): 9 Things That Look Like Butt Plugs That Are Not Actually Butt Plugs (Damn! Someone stole my 9 list... And, ok, do I really need to see that, and never be able to see those nine things again without thinking of butt plugs?


This is not a butt plug, but it could make the list...

My post is already twice the length of any of those stories and I haven't even given you my list. Which is the point: if you're still here, you're actually thinking a little, I hope. And to be fair, the site I visited is not doing anything that isn't happening on, CNN News, WordPress,, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post (not to bite the hand that feeds me, so to speak) and the other sites I visit most. If listing the sites I visit most has just turned you off (not intellectual enough, etc), then remember you stuck with me beyond butt plugs. It's easy to see that numbered lists are everywhere, and it really makes me wonder why they hold such wide appeal- aside from the dumbed down, easy road theory I've already suggested.

Numbered lists are not a new thing, though they have become much more prolific than they once were. David Letterman is probably the king of Top 10 Lists; it was a staple of his late night show for 30 years. Letterman's late night list started in response to the Top 10 Best and Worst lists in People Magazine. During one of his shows Letterman mentioned that those lists bugged him, and his writers came up with the brilliant idea of making stupid lists part of his nightly gig. The first Top 10 List on David Letterman, aired on September 18th, 1985. The list was: "The Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas." (Now, you're all trying to think of words that rhyme with peas; admit it.) Please note that I wrote this entire post before wondering where these lists actually started, and then inserted this fascinating aside, into the center of my post, so that my post on lists would be less dumb than others. While I promise this is historically accurate, there may be more to numbered lists than I found in my extensive research, you've just learned something, and, I've aligned myself, creatively, with David Letterman. Snap!

However, I'm a writer; I want my work to be read. So if lists are what people want, then here's my list.

9 Reasons Numbered Lists Bug the Sh!t Out of Me

(I picked 9 to be edgy; 10 is so predictable (and Letterman), and I didn't spell out sh!t, because some readers don't like that language):

1. Numbered lists are stupid. I've shared some reasons above. If you skipped down to the numbered part, see, you missed it.
2. Numbered lists don't require much thought or effort; I believe in effort and thought. I believe they pull us away from engagement, as we read a quick list, and give little thought to the author's beliefs or thoughts, beyond the order of their preferences.
3. Numbered lists are generally one person's opinion and aren't necessarily accurate. However, because they put a number to it, it comes across as if it is factual. For instance, since my brain is already traumatized, there are surely more than 9 things that look like buttplugs? And, I know I could come up with more than 9 reasons numbered lists bug me... or less, for that matter.
4. Few things are finite, and numbered lists suggest otherwise. That bugs the sh!t out of me.
5. The numbers generally seem so arbitrary, except in the case of very finite topics: The top 10 Baby Names this year. I'm assuming research has been done there?
6. Who's to say any numbered list shouldn't be another number (see #3).
7. Numbered lists are often judgmental, bullying, or preachy, soft-sold in a clever (or, if you read #1, stupid), benign-looking list. Here's what you're missing, in a numbered list. Here's 5,10, 22, reasons you're not dressed right, living in the best city, etc.
8. Numbered lists make me think I need to remember things- a particular number of things. That stresses me out. I'm fifty-something, and I don't want to remember extra things.
9. Numbered lists feel stale to me; they are simply yesterday's new thing- And by yesterday, I mean at least 2013, but officially May 20, 2015-- when David Letterman and his top 10 list went off the air.

There, I've sold out to the man... or the woman, if you're reading this on Huffington Post. I've written a numbered list; I've posted it. And because I'm ironic, and even sarcastic, and now doubly so: I have in fact written and published one just recently. Which also makes this hypocrisy, as well... Admittedly, I bug the sh!t out of myself! And, no doubt, I'm going to hell in a hand basket, along with everyone who read this list.

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Earlier on Huff/Post50:

What Do You No Longer Stress Over?: Health/Appearance Edition