When did it start these articles solely comprised of numerical lists? Is it the natural evolution from magazine covers;”50 New Looks For Spring” “15 Ways To Make Him Swoon” “10 Tricks To Getting A Proposal”? At some point it was discovered that people respond to Arabic numerals. (You will never see a magazine cover emblazoned with “Twelve Ways To Spruce Up Your Pantry” or “IX Ways To Rock His World”.)
Numerical lists are really only compatible with the most practical of subjects. No one needs flowery exposition on stain removal. Just tell us which 10 items will work best on synthetics. Anything that involves shopping certainly warrants only lists and photos. The average person will slip into unconsciousness having to read anything about high-waisted pants beyond; ‘buy them now’. But articles about human relationships, education, politics, and culture do not lend themselves to bullet points. However numbered lists sell and therein lays the conundrum.
The writer who pens a fully fleshed out piece is pressured to insert numbers (in the title and the body). A writer seeking readership might resort to creating lists versus narrative. There is usually some measure of disappointment for the reader in discovering that the “10 Guys You Should Avoid At All Costs” is a list of 5 guys whose description is vague enough to cover every man who’s walked the earth and 5 guys who are such caricatures as to be more suited to science fiction.
Part of the appeal of these lists passing as content is our attention span as readers. We’re at the point at which we consider a 140 character Tweet to be ‘wordy’. If an email stretches beyond a paragraph (and it better be a tight paragraph) we’ve lost the reader. This love of condensed and concentrated delivery unfortunately extends to the theatre as well. Theatre producers regularly consider the length of a play before mounting a production. Some artistic directors even apologize for a full-length production. The good news is that the trend can’t continue forever. We are not going to devolve into communicating solely through grunts and emoticons. We will probably never revert back to four-hour movies (with intermissions). But some bounce back will occur. People will tire of Tang, they usually do. A new generation is bound to ‘discover’ meaningful and full-length content.
Now I did promise to list 5 Reasons This Article Is Useless. But I trust you dear reader to compile that list on your own.