Caution: this post contains adjectives that are non traditional in a business writing context. To rephrase that, there is some mild moderate swearing. Oh, and I think I’ve used my entire week’s quota of ellipses.

You see these things all the time. You know, social media clickbait: 17 Words You Should Never Use, 7 Mistakes Unsuccessful People Make, 5 Commandments That Didn’t Make It Down The Mountain… (Thou shalt not wear checked shirts with striped ties…)

Generally, this kind of post is a complete waste of time, and is likely to make you dumber. (10 reasons why being dumb is not great…) This is why:

  • They’re lazy writing. The author doesn’t need to think of a structure, develop an argument, or really put much thought into it at all. They can bang this kind of nonsense out in minutes.
  • Further to point 1, they’re generally completely subjective and not based on any actual research. In many cases, they recycle another unresearched shit dribble of a post, repeating subjective, unsubstantiated or just-plain-wrong claims.
  • Their primary aim is to generate traffic for the site in question. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to get traffic, I guess I have this highfalutin idea that writing should have some kind of meaning to it, whether it be for artistic reasons, to convey an idea, or to try and make the world a better place. Stand back, I’m about to use a metaphor: list posts are a Simon Cowell boy band, contrived filler for the masses. Real writing is that band you like—the one with real musicians, you know, who write their own songs (remember that?)
  • The traffic generated is likely to be one-off traffic. Unless your content is actually good, people won’t come back. If lists are your main format, it’s probable that your content is shit. Sorry, dude; no easy way to say it.
  • They trade on what’s trending—yes, the world really needs another post on Meercat or Periscope. (If you’re reading this in the future—firstly, ‘Hello!’—these were live-streaming apps that every tech blogger on Earth wrote quintillions of words about in early 2015, like there was nothing else happening in the world.) As such, you’re not going to get much original insight.
  • They trade on fear. Fear of being uninformed, fear of being unpopular, fear of all kinds of things. If you make people fearful, they will resent you. I resent you already. (The shit I see on Linked In, with fucking thousands of likes… )

They talk about ‘secrets’, or oxymoronical ‘facts’, or other stuff that you simply must click the link to find out… or else your life will be unfulfilling and everyone else will be better than you. No, please tell me the secret that lets me buy an iPad for $10! Please! (Which reminds me, I see these links at the bottom of respectable—ish—publications. I know businesses need to make money, and news publications have been hammered in the last few years, but have some integrity! Why do you accept advertising from the digital equivalent of a Ponzi scheme? Why do you want to taint the ethos of your brand with this clickbait bullshit?)

You simply can’t keep up with the information flying at you in your modern life; trying to save time by reading synopsis lists doesn’t save you time, it wastes what time you have on valueless nonsense (the worst kind of nonsense!). The lessons you learn will be trite and likely incorrect. Then you’ll forget them, or worse, pass this on to someone else, like a contagious dumbness. You can’t have it all; the information you can consume is finite. Life is too short to read crap.

This phenomenon is so common, it has its own portmanteau word: ‘listicle’, a combination of ‘list’ and ‘article’, which makes me think of ‘testicle’. Then I think of balls. Then I think of the British expression sometimes uttered when things go badly: Oh, balls.

Shit, how did I end up here? If only I’d put more thought into this post.