HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: The listicle is alive and well, I went hunting
There was a time – let’s call it a long, long time ago, before pandemics and lockdowns and Trump - where the listicle found popularity as big as Tik-Tok is now, or Instagram or even Twitter.
In case you all need a reminder, a listicle is an informal piece of writing that, to be honest, doesn’t take a lot of time to write, therefore results in quick turnaround content for the internet and websites looking for some traffic – clickbait is what we’d call it now, I guess.
In fact, the listicle took such priority in some newsrooms that there were rules of how to write them in order for traffic to peak.
“Odd numbers of lists work better than even numbers.” For example, “9 things that make you want to eat bread” works better than “10 things that make you want to eat bread”. Who knows why? Are we conditioned to wonder what that last “even” number is and therefore more prone to click on odd numbers?
Anyway, so these quick turnaround articles contain – as you all know by now – lists. A list of facts, quotations, trivia, or even best household washing powders and random things like “here are the 11 foods most associated with your favourite TV show”. You get it.
Buzzfeed was the listicle gold standard. In fact, I think they still are – I don’t visit Buzzfeed anymore, but soon after they started this bulleted version of articles, listicles started to crop up everywhere.
And then, one day, just like that, they started to die down. Of course, they are not altogether extinct, but they’re just more… rare. I haven’t, for example, seen one in ages except when I am reading something on the Poynter Institute of the Dos and Don’ts of Reporting on a Pandemic, for example – I don’t think this really qualifies as a listicle, by the way.
So I went on a hunt to the now more popular blogging site Medium. I love Medium. I use it all the time. There are articles on there that are verified, done by good researchers, interesting pages you can subscribe to that give you information that you may only be interested in and cut out all the crap.
It’s a good way to read for pleasure, but also read for learning –if that makes sense. When I visit Medium, I never go straight to their home page, I have all my “sites” of interest bookmarked so I skip all the searches and go straight there, but today I went straight to the homepage – and long live the listicle, it turns out.
I can safely report back that every third or fourth article on the homepage was a portmanteau of numbered fact, tips, advice and quotes.
Here are a few examples: “Top 10 Elon Musk Productivity Secrets for Insane Success” or “Four quotes by actual humans that actually blew my mind” or “20 things I wish I’d known in my 20s”.
I wasn’t baited by any of these. I honestly have no interest in Elon Musk. I am saturated by what other humans have to say and I am long past my twenties so I went ahead and scrolled to perpetuity until I found some stuff I thought really mattered like: “The 10 mindset differences between the richest 1% and the other 99%” – don’t you love how PC they were here? Not the “poorest” 99%. Just the “other” rest of us and every other pleb. And yeah,
I wanted to know. My life has changed in a week in a dramatic way, of course I want to be a 1 percenter. The first tip was: They read a lot. Bullshit. I read a lot, other people read a lot and there’s a wonderful man who lives and walks about Sea Point who is never without a book and I think he reads the most of anyone I have ever seen and he is not a 1 percenter. Next…
“7 Habits that Seem Lazy (But Actually Let You Get More Done)”. Now hear me out here, of course, I was looking for self-vindication. I spend a LOT of time thinking and whenever people ask me why I’m not writing, I say “I AM working, thinking, looking, listening etc. IS working”.
So, you know, I was going for this sort of fact-based research. And, even though I didn’t find myself vindicated, I did learn an interesting story about a French economist Claude-Frédéric Bastiat who published a very famous essay in 1850 called, “Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas” which means: “What is seen and what is unseen.” The entire premise of the essay is an argument about the “good economist” vs the “bad economist” and it is, Bastiat argues, that bad economists are only interested in the initial effect of their actions, but not the consequences, whereas the good ones do the opposite. The list was an episodic reveal of a very interesting essay which I never knew existed and reading that listicle was well worth it.
My traffic to your site is my absolute pleasure Medium. However, don’t tell me about how Elon Musks CHOOSES to be productive because that means absolutely zero in my life and perhaps that’s what you should call those kinds of listicles. Zero.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.