The Top 10 Reasons We Love Top Ten Lists

Somedays it seems to me that the whole world has become a search results page. I fear we have become obsessed with ranked and ordered lists. I’m not sure what it is in the human psyche that loves lists conveniently numbered for our perusal, but heaven knows we’re suckers for the Top Ten.

The Internet has fed this addiction to the point that I feel like the whole world can be sorted like an Excel spread sheet. Sort my best friends by geographic proximity and likelihood to lend me a wheelbarrow. Rank all the parties my teenage daughter will be invited to this year by availability of alcohol, physical presence of dictatorial parents and incidence rate of teenage boys who think they “have a shot”. Give me a list of the 10 things my wife hates so I can create a Pivot Table of my odds of doing one of them in the foreseeable future.

As any direct marketer, blogger, magazine publisher or show organizer will tell you, slapping the “Top Ten” on the front of anything virtually guarantees you an audience: The Top Ten Hot Dog Stands in Manhattan, The Top Ten Ways to Get Rich if You Love Wearing Pajamas All Day, The Top Ten Christmas Crafts that Can Be Made From Recyclable Yard Waste..It’s like we’re being spoon fed our lives by some idiot with a ranking algorithm for everything.

Why are we like this? Well, I think it’s because thinking is hard. It’s much easier to take someone else’s opinion about something, especially when it’s offered in the irresistible format of a ranked list. We can choose to agree or disagree, but we don’t actually have to think about it too much. Someone else has done it for us. Also, we travel in social herds, so it’s really important to know what everyone else feels about anything. And finally, the world just has too much complexity now. There are too many choices to think about in every aspect of our lives, even the stupid ones. I don’t really want to spend a lot of time wondering who the Ten Sexiest Olympians are this coming February. I know somewhere some obliging magazine publisher or blogger will do that Herculean intellectual task for me.

I guess ordered lists offer us the illusion of control. If we can slow the frenetic pace of the world down by looking at a list that someone has conveniently put numbers beside, our lives seem a tiny bit more orderly and organized. Yes, I know the economy and the environment is going to hell in a handbasket, yes, I know the global forces of power and control are undergoing a fundamental shift, but right now I’m focused on the 7 Greatest Reality TV Show Moments of 2009. I’ll worry about global warming some other day.

Of course, the urge to put a numbered list in as part of this post is overwhelming (get it..irony), so, I’ll give you the “Top 8 Reasons Why I Gave In and Did It”:

  1. I have the bladder control of an 80 year old man and have already had 2 cups of coffee, so I had to finish this post somehow
  2. I really want to see just how many of you will Tweet this list because you’ve been helplessly programmed to do so
  3. I’m obsessed with PostRank and I spend way too much of each day worried about my Engagement Score
  4. Given the choice between thought provoking content and a cheap laugh, guess which way I’ll always lean
  5. I’m still figuring out how numbered lists work in my blogging platform and needed the practice
  6. I felt guilty teasing you with a title about Top Lists and felt obliged to deliver. See, I really care about you, my readers and didn’t want to disappoint you
  7. I wanted to prove to my daughters that my brain is still capable of counting up to 8. There has been some question lately
  8. I believe that children are our future (Okay, I ran out of reasons, but I felt that Whitney deserved a plug because she’s trying really, really hard)

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