Why do we love lists?

Lately, I’ve been making a lot of lists. (Well, I’ve always been rather obsessed with lists — just more so, lately.) Lists of books to read, lists of movies to watch, playlists on my iPod. If there were a job that entailed making lists all day, I would be the perfect candidate.

But that only makes me human, doesn’t it? Because we humans love our lists. We love to name things (even going back to the Bible!), then put them into categories, and then make lists of them. Tag, cross-reference, organize. This is pretty much what we do, we humans.

Umberto Eco has said, “We like lists because we don’t want to die.” I get that. Lists bring order to the chaos. They constrain the infinite. They name the unknowable. We live in a vast universe, and we will never be able to enumerate everything. But doesn’t it give some purpose to our lives to at least try? And so we make lists.

Lists also set boundaries. When there is so much out there — so much to read, hear, see, do, eat — lists give us a place to start and, perhaps more importantly, a place to stop. They let us know when we are finished. There is such a satisfaction when the last item is crossed off. Even if we turn around and start another list.

By the way, don’t search for the word “lists” on Google, if you want to know about lists. The Internet is full to the brim with lists. It’s like we invented it just so we have a place to make and share our lists. Here are a few useful list-making sites: Ta-da list; Listography; Lists of Bests.

Here are some lists of lists: 1001 before you dieWikipedia’s lists; Flashlight Worthy book recommendations; McSweeney’s lists; Lit Lists; Listversemy lists.

It seems obligatory to finish this post with a list of my own, so here is a list of 10 great list makers:

  1. Benjamin Franklin
  2. Thomas Jefferson
  3. Peter Mark Roget
  4. Oskar Schindler
  5. David Letterman
  6. Santa
  7. Roger Ebert (Great Movies)
  8. David Wallechinsky (Book of Lists)
  9. the guys in High Fidelity
  10. Umberto Eco
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