I admit it dear reader, I was a listicle hater. Whenever I saw a headline that began with: “5 reasons why…” or some such nonsense, I’d groan, roll my eyes and – I’m not proud of this – not even read the rest of the headline.
I thought I knew all about listicles. To my mind, they were vacuous pieces of literary effluvia spawned in the darkest corners of the world-wide-inter-web-net by nefarious, clickbait-obsessed pithecanthropoids determined to vomit endless streams of “content” for people too lazy to form opinions of their own.
Even the name “listicle”… it sounds gauche, even a little, dare I say it, a touch lewd. (A little imagination will reveal where that admittedly sophomoric idea comes from.) And worse of all, listicles had the unmitigated gall to try and pass themselves off as journalism! Oh the humanity!
It’s true my carbon based compadres. I thought I knew all about listicles. Turns out, I was dead wrong.
What follows are three reasons why listicles (still not sold on the name) are in fact a valid and valuable form of content. And yes, heaven help us all… even journalism.
1. They can provide actionable content that instructs.
The consensual hallucination that we call the world-wide-inter-web-net is one of the greatest collaborative tools ever devised, and this is taking into account such world-changing scientific advances as spray-on hair and silly putty. This massive digital gestalt has created a nearly limitless collection of instructional sites using – you guessed it – the listicle. Popular sites like Instructables and wikiHow provide listicle-based instructions on doing just about anything, from turning a bookshelf into a lizard habitat to saying useful things in Romanian.
“Acest habitat soparla pare suspect ca un raft!” (This lizard habitat looks suspiciously like a bookshelf!)
2. They are uniquely adapted to the internet age.
It’s long been said that people on the interwebz don’t read, they skim. There is a certain degree of truth to this, (though the reasons for that will have to be another tale, for another time) and it must be said that the presentation of facts in a numbered or bullet-pointed form allows the reader to skip to the piece of information of most value to them. This time savings is necessary in our busy, fast-paced world, though long-form writers like myself are often loathe to admit it. When populated with valuable content, the listicle can be a powerful tool for presenting information.
3. They can be a catalyst to deeper discussion.
Listicles can be used as “teasers” to start a conversation on a specific subject. If written well, a listicle can offer headlines and brief updates on larger issues, each one inviting the reader to join a longer, more involved discussion. I think of it as an enhanced version of the excerpt. I’m not aware of this idea being used as of yet, but it’s something I’ll be experimenting with in future.
With this kind of evidence, I’m left with no alternative but to consider listicles a valid form of content, no matter how much they may be misused.
Having said that…
Don’t get me wrong my dearest reader. Much of the “content” found in listicles is the same vacant, shoddy literary detritus (“5 Reasons Why Mayo is Awesomer than Ketchup!”, etc.) that I’ve been lamenting. (Lookin’ at you BuzzFeed.) The problem is, I’d been punishing the package when it was the “packager” that was the problem. Every year thousands of books are published that are horrid beyond the ability of language to convey, but that doesn’t mean we should punish the book itself. It is simply a container. It’s the beknighted barbarian who would foist such ineffable twaddle on the world who should be taken to task.
My carbon-based compatriots, let us take back the listicle as a easy-to-read catalyst for deeper discussion and a method of learning through step-by-step instruction.
No if you’ll excuse me, I have to try and fit this lizard into my bookshelf.
Note: I’d like to extend an apology to my Romanian-speaking readers. It is… painfully obvious that I do not speak Romanian, and my attempts I’m sure are problematic at best. Please take the passages here in the humourous spirit that they were intended.