Listicle

Among the various breeds of online brain-candy, by far one of the most insidious is the so-called Listicle. A portmanteau of ?list? and ?article,? the word sounds like what would result if you tattooed your grocery list on a particular part of the male anatomy (which would probably fit right in with the adventuresome inksters at Whole Foods, actually). Milk, eggs and what else? Permit me to unzip and check my listicle.

The listicle is usually comprised of a thin lead, a series of bullet points and a vague summary. I?ve written dozens ? or rather, I?ve filed dozens when I was too hung over or bored to write something that required extra line breaks to fill a column inch. This is not one of those moments, tempting as it is to enumerate the ?5 Reasons I Missed My Deadline Again? (No. 3: ?Deadline, I thought you said ?bed lyin? ? so I slept in?) or ?3 Ways to Have a 3 Way Without Your Marriage Counselor Trying to Get Involved ? with Your Wife.?

List-inclined writers often struggle to get as many words into their work as bullet points. Consequently, their pieces read like Bonnie and Clyde?s Flathead Ford. Sure, it drives but?

This isn?t a problem for me since I usually don?t know enough about any one subject to have more than a couple of bullets about it. And I?ve got to gussy those up with copious amounts of verbiage lest my readers notice the holes in my liberal arts education. Actually, there?s just one hole, but it?s vast and black and inhaled a lot of money into oblivion some years ago.

Listicle of Listicles

Predictably, the listicle concept has turned in on itself resulting in listicles about listicles. I?m guilty of having once written, Top Ten Top Ten Lists. Last month, my colleague Rachel Edidin, at Wired?s Underwire blog, published 5 Reasons Listicles Are Here to Stay, and Why That?s OK. Obviously, it?s okay ? Listicle.co has based its business on the concept. ?Listicle is a social blogging platform that allows everyone to create and share listicles,? its site explains. Great, more amateurs pushing out the professionals. Good for you, Internet.

Cracked, the humor site that spun out of its print magazine, has mastered the listicle principle in its own cockeyed way. Every ounce of its content is effectively a list: as in, 5 Random Coincidences That Invented Modern Pop Culture ? No. 5: Stan Lee?s Laziness Led to the X-Men.? Apparently, Lee forewent the work necessary to create origin stories and asked instead, ?What if they were just born that way??

Perhaps that?s how listicles themselves came to be ? they?re not undernourished articles reduced to a collection of skeletal subheads, but rather mutations. With superpowers. And maligned by bigots who fear them. In short, heroes here to clean up the joint, through brute force if necessary.

As Wolverine says, ?I?m the best at what I do but what I do best isn?t very nice.? Yes, Listicles are kicking my ass.

But why? Because, according to Edidin, ?2. Lists Give Us Additional Ways to Interact With Information ? Lists let us process complicated information spatially, transforming it from cluster to linear progression.? Since much of real life is a cluster (add your own four-letter word here), let alone some newspaper columns. Perhaps listicles are the solution to all our problems, perhaps not. All I know is that my name has been on one since grammar school ? usually circled and with a check next to it.

That said, I don?t doubt I?m doing it wrong. I should try to use the power of the list as a force for good ? like not forgetting to buy butter at Whole Foods. Okay, sign me up for a listicle. Just one thing, how bad does it hurt?

Blogs vs Newspapers: Both have already lost.

Like many writers, I?m occasionally concerned with the reach of my work. Since this column also lives online at the newspaper?s website (and is often sliced and diced by my own hand into other online enclaves as well), it naturally has a potential reach that transcends Sonoma County. Though I?ve invested much of myself in the ?Sonoma Wide Web,? I have to admit that the World Wide Web has a tad more allure. It also sounds so direly ?90s when written out ? or even about ? that I can?t wait to get to the next paragraph.

Blogs vs Newspapers

In real life, I?m more akin to a blogger. The online version of these columns is a strange genetic offshoot that co-exists with its leaner, meaner cousins in the blogosphere (who?ve been around nearly as long) but its identity is hinged upon the dead tree media that precipitates it. In essence, it?s the Neanderthal to the blogs? homo sapiens. They co-exist, even interbreed a bit, but eventually will kill off the other (that was the plot to ?Quest for Fire,? right?).

Blogs themselves have long been experiencing evolutionary disruption at the hands (and limited character counts) of other means of messaging the masses. If, as the Kodak cliche goes, a photo is worth a thousand words, consider that Instagram ? the social photo-sharing network ? boasts, as of October 2013, 16 billion images. Now, multiply that by a 1,000. I can?t do math that quickly, but I?m counting on the product to be something close to a googolplex. This surely has the number crunchers at the other Googleplex down in Mountain View a wee bit concerned (?plus one? this if you care ? I don?t. In fact, no one does, which is the crux of the search giant?s social media problem).

Sure, it?s the content, not its point of distribution, that should be most important. But if you?re an acolyte of media philosopher Marshall McLuhan (and anyone who stumbled through a college communications course is by default), you?d know that content often takes a backseat to the vessel through which it?s delivered. To clarify for Sonomans: Consider how your pinot tastes in your Riedel stemware versus a repurposed mustard jar.

Like my colleagues at the New York Times, I?ll defer to the wisdom of the crowd and let Wikipedia sum it up: ??The form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.?

Fair enough ? so how might this change the meaning of these very words, should you be reading them in their native printed form or online. And by online, do we mean at sonomanews.com, DHowell.com, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and if then, by which device? A smartphone, tablet, laptop, cranial implant, etc.?

So far as I can tell, the only way the medium influences the message if you?re reading a newspaper is that you?re probably wearing bifocals.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, if you?re holding this in a form that was formerly a vegetable, you?re probably 55 or older. If you?re reading this on a device that didn?t exist until seven years ago, you could be anybody, but you?ve also very likely turned your back on the 17th century technology that has defined much of my career.

I?m squarely in the latter camp. I haven?t touched a newspaper, other than to kill a fly, for nearly a decade. I?ve also ?cut the cable? and plan to neuro-map my brain so I can upload my consciousness into the cloud-based environs of the digital afterlife ? you know, when it?s time to put this borrowed meat back into the ecosystem.

And yet, no matter how I write and how far it goes ? today Sonoma, tomorrow off-world ? in the end, I?m only ever reaching one person at a time. That?s you. I suppose no matter how much time and distance lies between the moment of this writing and the moment of your reading ? it?s really never that far is it? And that?s the whole point.

Via SonomaNews.com