Why are we such suckers for these kinds of stories?
Headlines like "7 Ways to Lose Weight While Eating Doughnuts!" and "5 Things You Should Never Put in Your Pants!" are click magnets, but why? BuzzFeed, Mental Floss, Sharecare, and especially Cracked are masters of the form. It's always 4 of this, 17 of that, 9 of the other. I fall for this stuff as much as anyone. What am I, Count von Count?
|"10 Vonderful Facts about Johnny Bravo! |
Ah ah ah!" (boom)
1. I have an idea how long it will be. I am a busy enough guy that my time to spend with trivia articles is short; if you tell me it's an article about 7 Iconic Cookies and How They Originated I know not only that the article is limited in scope but also I have an idea right up front how long it will take to read.
2. Lists are manageable. We like lists. They make things neat, and we all aspire to some kind of neatness, even if we are incapable of it in our own lives. Take a subject that's inherently sloppy (like Reasons We Can't Solve World Hunger), and stick a number in front of it (5 Reasons We Can't Solve World Hunger) and everything seems more manageable, even if it's still hard. Now, if we can just fix these 5 Reasons....
3. No writer mission creep. These days you start an article entitled "Why Does Your Dog Like Belly Rubs?" and ten paragraphs in the writer has morphed it into a disquisition on the evils of corporation-made pet foods and THAT DAMNED CHEETO TRUMP. While this could still happen in something like "12 Great Cincinnati Street Names" it's unlikely, as each item is self-contained and less likely to flow into polemic diarrhea. The internal breaks keep it brisk and on point.
I have to say, children, that the numbered story is not just an Internet thing. In the 1990s I was working at a dead-tree consumer magazine whose editor in chief was a big proponent of catchy coverlines, and particularly liked to tease readers with a number. Running a line like "7 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds by Summer!" on the cover would be her ideal. Except that she really loved "that big fat 8"; it was a numeral she found to be eye-catching and maybe soothing. She would send the story back to the editor to have her and the writer squeeze out 1 More Way to Lose 10 Pounds.
The magazine did fine while she was at the helm. Not since, though.
Better 8 than never.