Lists, You Know

Once, a long time ago, there was a guy in Great Britain, who prefaced virtually his every comment with the expression, “And, as every schoolboy knows.”

The guy was probably a politician. Or an academic. Today, we (or, more likely, in The Age of Immodesty, “they” and referring only to themselves) might call such people “public intellectuals.”

After the umpteenth time the gentleman uttered the phrase, “As every schoolboy knows,” a London newspaper began collecting and making a list of all the things “every schoolboy” would (have to) know. And, in short order, it became a rather lengthy, unwieldy, and not-at-all-easy-to-remember list. Indeed, what every schoolboy knew seemed practically encyclopedic.

Today, thanks to social media, we all have the opportunity to let everyone else know what we know. Regularly, Relentlessly.

One person I know is famous (well . . . ) for posting and “sharing” lists of things.

You know: Three things to remember, five things to act on, and seven points for follow-up.

Sidebar: It’s always an odd number, isn’t it? Apparently, knowing 4 things just doesn’t cut it; know three, know five, but skip four. Not sure why that is. But I’m blaming the advertising industry.

Most often, my list-sharing pal is offering other people’s lists. And, one by one, it’s neither inconvenience nor interruption to scroll through these lists with little effort and just as little memorability. They’re kind of disposable information.

But someone invented the original for lists as handy summaries for people with the attention span of a gnat. Bite-sized information that’s easy to digest. And equally easy to, ahem, eliminate.

Like the London newspaper, though, I’m tempted to begin recording these lists of 3 or 5 or 7 things.

One suspects that rather quickly, the handy, gnat-sized summaries will, as was true for the Great Britain speaker, no longer be digestible. And the rate with which my correspondent’s list-making occurs – “Fast” is too subtle a way to describe it and I’m not sure “daily” does it justice, either – is certain to rival that of the earlier gentleman.

There’s no substitute, even today in the Digital Age, for a good, multi-shelf-filling set of encyclopedias.

Because what’s more than a little infuriating is the whole notion that one needs only know “enough” and that that can be encapsulated inside a list.

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