1. People like lists
Let’s consider nutrition in America. The healthiest foods for you are vegetables and lean proteins (says my dietician, at least). What do we actually eat? Sugar and carbs. There are billions of dollars being made helping people eat more nutritiously while giving them the kind of tastes they like. People do not choose what is healthiest for them, they choose what they like and pay people to add nutrition in the back end.
If people think it’s terrible that people don’t just will-power themselves into eating healthy without making the diet more palatable, they can follow their own advice. It doesn’t harm them for others to do what works for them.
What is the healthiest kind of content to read? If we look at online reading as something we do purely to learn or make ourselves smarter (it’s not, see #2) then I think reading Plato and Nietzsche and Thomas Merton everyday would be the way to go. But, will people choose this option? It’s already readily available. Plato’s works are in the public domain. Have at it.
If that doesn’t work for you, it’s probably edifying to read someone’s list of 6 Things I Don’t Like About Breaking Bad and disagree with the writer. You will probably consider the Ring of Gyges question in your head, without ever using those words.
2. Entertainment is not evil
Listicles are entertaining to read. People are weirdly puritanical about entertainment, I think because they feel guilty about pleasure. There’s a poem I like where the writer says, “only Dostoyevsky can be Dostoyevskian at such long tumultuous stretches.” We’re allowed to take a break from doing stuff constantly. It’s human.
Jane Eyre is entertainment. Lolita is entertainment. CNN is entertainment of another form. Entertainment is everything. Do you want to sit around contemplating your own mortality/existential despair? Nope. Distractions please!
3. There’s a false dichotomy between “entertaining” and “informative”
There’s this idea that there’s a chasm between something that’s “entertaining” and something that causes you to think. The reason I started writing on the internet is because four years ago I was watching The Real World with friends and my friends and I couldn’t believe how subtly misogynistic it was that MTV beeped out the word “tampon.” The emails we had around that conversation were so involved that we started a blog to talk about more things we learned from low culture.
So, just because something isn’t spoonfeeding you critical thoughts doesn’t that you won’t think critically about it. It’s like a story problem in math class versus straight up equations.
4. Conversational writing (and list forms) are more inclusive than dense ‘good’ writing
In one of my favorite books, the author will all of a sudden be talking in Latin or French and make jokes you wouldn’t follow if you weren’t familiar with Kierkegaard. The ideas in the book can be explained to a child, but the author is writing for philosophers, so he doesn’t do this–and so his idea is not available for 99% of the world.
John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University, David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Villanova University and all around fancy smart person, if you’re out there, can you please make this book into a list on Thought Catalog so everyone can talk about it?
5. We have a bias against new things
We don’t like lists because it is a more modern way to present information. It is not the way things have always been done. This is a poor argument.
6. Reading internet lists might make you better able to read non-internet lists
I remember the first time I read a legal brief or a philosophy text or something else that was dense and intimidating–I wanted to quit. I thought someone was going to come in and tap me on the shoulder and tell me I had to leave because this is something everyone understands but me. But it got easier.
Unpopular opinion: dense reading takes a lot of practice and trial and error to become okay at. I don’t think people know that and I think they pick up something really great like, The Brothers Karamozov, and get discouraged and quit.
I think all reading is beneficial. Read Penthouse letters. Who cares? Maybe you’ll read Danielle Steel next. And then Henry Miller. We all walked before we ran, and walk again because–let’s be realistic–running would be an exhausting way to get around constantly.