Listicles seem to be the bread and butter of internet websites these days. They have wormed their way up from Buzzfeed to infiltrate even the loftier echelons of the interwebs, proper news websites. Scroll down to lifestyle and entertainment, and suddenly you’ve descended into a clickhole of Dante-esque proportions. It started innocently, “5 things you should know about the situation in CAR”, then moved innocuously to “30 facts for Katy Perry’s 30th birthday”, then devolved into “10 reasons you should date a guy with hooves” and “7 signs you ate too much today, fatty”.
As entertaining as they can be, from a literary perspective, listicles are a threat. Most people would choose an easy-to-digest list over a comprehensive analysis any day, and this is starting to show. Supply and demand, baby. Give the people what they want. Even if it is to the detriment of think pieces, in-depth analyses and long-form creative fiction.
So why is this? Have our literary consumption habits been so degraded that we can only process bite-sized pieces of prose? Have our reading habits devolved so badly that we need our material obviously signposted so we know what we’re committing to? “31 reasons Broad City is the best show ever”? 31 reasons? No time, I’ll take “5 times cats were jerks” instead.
A curse of the modern age perhaps, or the road toll we pay for the information super highway? I think it’s more insidious than that. Listicles are parasites. Feeding on us and real writing. There’s probably a few reasons for this. Firstly… No. No. You just read this whole thing, no signposts. Left to right, top to bottom, you won’t get lost I promise.
Anyway, listicles are the parasites of the internet. They are endemic, duplicitous and feed on the lifeblood of their hosts – readers and proper articles. A sneaky tiger leech, hiding on knee-skimming ferns, just waiting for you to brush past unaware so it can drain your blood. A tapeworm hanging out in mystery meat, waiting for you to make an ill-informed dietary decision. A strangler fig choking the life out of the tree who supports it for a spot in the sun. There’s a wealth of metaphors for listicles, even the word itself is a red flag. The portmanteau is cutesy, stolen from other words, it even has the syllable ‘ick’ in it!
Listicles are those wasps that lay eggs in the brains of other insects. Then the babies hatch and control their zombie hosts. I’m not even making this up. Listicles destroy your ability to make your own reading decisions, you can’t click just one. Before you know it you’ve spent an entire morning falling down a clickhole of listicles and have nothing to show for it. Listicles, like fleas and lice, are adaptable and can survive a range of conditions. They embrace mixed media openly, a trait widely-lauded in this multimediascape we call the internet. Listicles are as at-home with video as they are with music,text and images. They are laid out in order: you read the title, you smile at the .gif or watch the video, then read the paragraph that goes with it. Simple, no critical thinking, no consideration, nothing to show for the time wasted. The most effective parasites go unnoticed.
This may come off as very high and mighty but I’m not immune, I absolutely indulge in listacles from time to time. I’m not saying stop reading them, parasites have their uses in the circle of life. We derive vaccines from mosquitoes, and would we even have supermodels without tapeworms? When listicles act as a mental break in your day at work or the odd link shared among friends, there’s no problem. The cause for concern is if all we read online comes in list format. Obviously my glorious readers won’t have to worry about that, but as a whole we need to be more receptive to long reads on the internet. I love The Awl, particularly this one from a few weeks ago, New Matilda for current affairs, and The Daily Beast cultivates a weekly list of good long reads. Yes, they require a bit more time and concentration, but long reads are an investment rather than a distraction! Together we can fight back against the listicle infestation and hopefully fill the internet with thoughts and words rather than advertorials and YouTube clips. The cat gifs can stay though.