Columns, Michael Leonberger

I Hate Ten Ways | Michael Leonberger

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Some lists are great.

I’m looking at you, To-Do Lists and Grocery Lists. Couldn’t get by without ya!

Without a grocery list, I’d come home with a gallon of chocolate milk and a bag of honey mustard and onion pretzels every time. Exclusively.

Goodbye, Vitamin B and greens and whatever other nutritional opportunities I’d gleefully catapult over without a grocery list.

Maybe I’d pick up a newspaper, so long as they’re still being printed. Just every once in a while to foster some idea of sophistication. I’m not just skimming the news, the purchase of a newspaper says. I’m reading the news. I wouldn’t ever buy toilet paper, but the newspaper would suffice, ya know?

I’m saying I’d get by, but it wouldn’t be pretty.

And to-do lists? Don’t get me started: they’re catnip to Type A Millennials like you and me (well, maybe you — my grocery store confessional should have sliced that notion to ribbons). When Millennials get married, they put their hands on to-do lists instead of religious tomes. It’s true, I’ve seen it. A snappy ten-year plan far more concise and economic than any Holy Book, that affords those vows with some elasticity, and doesn’t send you howling to hell in case the whole thing doesn’t work.

Millennials, you know — realistic, even in romance.

(Better yet, one can now touch a Kindle loaded not just with lists but all kinds of religion, to boot: the Bible, the Torah, the Quran — anything, everything, a digital religious net that astronomically increases one’s chance of a happy married life, and even a life beyond. The rest of us, too immature to ever use a to-do list, won’t be getting married any time soon).

Even as I write this, I can feel something snarky roiling in my guts, saying, “Why not just make this part into a list? Not a To-Do list, but an Internet Top Ten List! They’re ever so popular! Cheerio!” (My inner snark is an acne-covered theatre dropout with a god-awful fake English accent, a Newsies cap and suspenders. Just so we’re on the same page).

I have to resist that thing.

How long has it been there?

How long have we been doing this to ourselves? Reducing every damn thing in the world to a helpful, snappy little list?

I can’t do it! I’m long winded. You’ve maybe noticed. If you’ve read my column on Cell Phones (a marvelous piece, I might add, you’d love it!), you’ve definitely noticed I’m long winded.

You might ask yourself:

Why not just reduce the cell phone piece into an online list?

It’d be fairly simple: a list of the phones I’ve had. How they lived, how they died, obituary-type stuff, with bullets and numbers and GIFs.

I want the book to know that I care: that I’ve shut out the others, that it’s not going to be quick and meaningless and shallow, like it is with them. No, for the book, it’s all lobster dinner and expensive champagne and crisp, white linen.

It’d be easier to read, you might say.

It’d be more user-friendly!

It’d look nicer.

More people would read it! My response? (And that wasn’t a bad list in and of itself, was it? Pretty snappy stuff…maybe I’d be good at this list business after all).

…Eh, I have no response actually. You bring up some fairly sound points, invisible Newsie friend.

Only I like writing, and I like reading, and online lists kill me because they’ve stripped the language of its poetry, and they’ve revealed it to be just a cold bone-yard of math.

I read that certain publishers are shifting back to a print medium. This, I tell you, will not be a contagious trend. People love their Kindles and E-books and Nooks. They’re like flat, digital, fingerprint-stained family members. They’re lighter than a hardback book. Why carry around Stephen King’s Under the Dome in hardback (an object that’s been known to kill people if dropped from a high enough building) when you could carry it on your Kindle, along with the entire Harry Potter saga and a couple of encyclopedias to boot?

They let you read smut like Fifty Shades of Gray or Twilight or Glenn Beck anonymously, without the prying eyes of judgment. They’re not conversation starters on your morning metro commute, when all you want to do is be alone (“Hi, I couldn’t help but notice that you were reading Catcher In the Rye, and…why, I too have read Catcher In the Rye!”) They’re conversation-enders. Sleek, black stop signs, saying “Don’t ask me what I’m reading. For all you know, I’m watching the Naked News, and then who’s gonna feel stupid?”

Anyway, while I 100% doubt the return to print will be a trend, I have a theory on where the impulse comes from:

People don’t read correctly online.

Some people do, but some people, like myself (an online writer, to boot!), do not. We’re the obsessive compulsive, attention deficit, caffeinated twitches of the millennium, and we can barely concentrate on what you’re saying without mentally rewinding to the night before.

If we’re rude, it’s because we’re lost.

If we’re reading, our device better not have Wi-Fi, because we’re online, even if we think we’re not. Even if we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve tumbled kneecaps deep into a book, still, a gnawing, twisted flap in the back of our brains knows we’re online. Living behind it is an ADD id: a salivating ogre lusting after the chance to ride roughshod over the hyper kinetic landscape of the Internet.

Tug that tab and the whole show comes crumbling down.

News. Mail. Facebook. Tweet, Snap, Tumble.

The book doesn’t stand a chance.

If you’re going to actually read something (like snuggle-up-with-a-good-book kind of read), you have to be at least a couple of yards of physical space removed from such distractions.

Or, again: maybe you don’t, but I do.

I want the book to know that I care: that I’ve shut out the others, that it’s not going to be quick and meaningless and shallow, like it is with them. No, for the book, it’s all lobster dinner and expensive champagne and crisp, white linen. No pizza and beer, no smoky dive, no 42nd Street sleaze.
I’m gonna hold the thing in my hands. Crease the pages and crack the spine. Intimate, you know. Involving. Romantic in a way that secretly reading Sasha Gray’s new book behind a computer screen is not.

The Internet doesn’t seem hospitable to something as slow and involving and foreplay-heavy as a novel.

It’s as Trent Reznor commented on the state of the music industry: it’s no longer about albums, but singles. It’s not about books, but magazines.

And we’re talking gossip rag magazine, replete with quizzes about which president or power animal you most resemble, about which celebrity backside is spotted with the most cellulite; where international news is interrupted by a thumbnail declaring that the cheerleader from Heroes is engaged, which somehow devastates us more than the news we were reading because we were all going to marry her, weren’t we?

The slack jawed, distracted, bloodshot-eyed gang we are, and wouldn’t you know it, we’ve already clicked away, and forgotten about her wedding, searching instead for How I Met Your Mother spoilers, and maybe a forum or two to pit stop into — we can talk about Kiefer Sutherland’s performance as Solid Snake if we want, or drool over how awesome The Last of Us: Left Behind is.

Click-happy, running out of fumes, we’ll start hitting up those lists, because that’s what it’s about.

It’s about quick, thrilling jolts of endorphins to your brain.

It’s about forums, and picture galleries, and multi-tasking.

It’s about clicking, and clicking, and clicking, each click unearthing a buried treasure. It’s about saving time and maximizing pleasure.

Once Facebook and the Oculus Rift make whatever deliriously agile babies they’re going to make together, it’ll be a living, breathing magazine: a virtual reality where one wanders through their own pleasure garden, lost and dead inside an exciting, occasionally mind-blowing, occasionally meaningless digital labyrinth, with life-sized pop-up ads blocking their only exits like playground bullies fat on razor sharp marketing research.

I’m not saying it’s bad.

I’m saying it’s great, only I feel kind of sick.

Maybe…just maybe…there’s a list out there that can help me?

A health list, and I love those, because I’m an obsessive compulsive (diagnosed) Internet hypochondriac (undiagnosed, but I have to be!).

If I’m coughing I’m dying, and if I notice a new tenant appear on my skin, I’m worried about the whole neighborhood. In those instances, I need a list of what my symptoms are: quicker and cheaper than a doctor’s visit, and far more amusing.

I’m not saying it’s healthy. Frankly, it’s not. But I need something immediate, something I can understand. I don’t need medical mumbo-jumbo. I need a cheap list to scratch my imaginary disease.

If, say, my lip swells up to golf ball proportions one sunny day in January, and I don’t know why, I need a list.

A quick Google search of “Why is my lip swelling up?” has taken me to a couple of different websites, each purporting to tell me what’s going on with my mouth hole.
Now, even thoroughly neurotic me can’t possibly read each link. So I’m going to go for the one with the shortest, most concise list.

The one that tells me it’s because of a punctured cyst above my mouth, or because it’s an allergic reaction (probably that one, obviously that one), and the one that tells me, unambiguously, that I should probably see a doctor.

That’s the kind of list I can get behind! Roundabout lists full of quick, valid points, reconfirming your worst fears and sending you to bed pumped full of anxiety like the worry junkie you are like well-aimed karate chops that hit exactly where I need them to hit.
What I don’t need, or want, are lists that resemble the following:

Ten Ways You Know You’re In Your Twenties

This is the list I’m sick of.

It’s what’s at the bottom of the Wikipedia-wormhole you’ve been sucked into. What’s lurking behind all that Tumblr porn clogging your history.

You know this list as well as I do.

I think I’ve combed through about a million of these lists by now, hoping each one will tell me something about myself I don’t already know.

And not a single one of the reasons on that list are going to be “Because you know how to tell time.”

No, it’s going to be all kinds of cute, clever observations, like the following:

1) You’ve started going to bed early instead of partying.

Just because you’re a recluse doesn’t mean everyone else is. Trying to normalize your loneliness is an abuse of the purpose of the list. Writing is about sharing. Lists are about organizing. You can’t organize the chaos that is your twenties, can you? But let us continue to try.

2) You’d rather snuggle up with a good book than hang out with your friends.

Again with the lonely, reclusive habits! All I’m learning from these lists is that you become a leper in your twenties. You no longer wish to see people. You hate humanity, except for the kind written about in books, and I don’t believe you’re reading a book at all: I mean, this is long, but a book it ain’t, and I thank you so much for reading :-)

3) You’ve begun to understand the difference between Merlot and Chardonnay.

Pssssh, then I must be seven. My twenties are a mirage.

4) You remember the nineties.

Stop it. You’re aging the list. You’re admitting, already, that it’s a disposable list. You’re basically saying, “Who cares? In ten years, when new people are in their twenties, and they DON’T remember the nineties, and they’re reading this list, I won’t even remember writing it because of all the nights I spent studying the difference between a Chardonnay and a Merlot!” So, yes, mathematically, if you’re in your twenties now, you probably remember the nineties. That’s not a given, however. It’s not the “gimme your snuggly list” you think it is. What if you were in a coma throughout the nineties, like the hero of the book/movie/television show “The Dead Zone”? What then? Are you not still actually in your twenties?

I have a seething, sarcastic, obnoxious hatred for this list that cannot be tamed!

Other things that are taken for granted are:

5) You’ve discovered that your mom and dad are your best friends.

Who are you? Don’t bring your mom and dad to this! It used to be cool. We used to talk about cool things, like girls and cars.

Now all we’re talking about is Tupperware and politics, and I hate you for that.
Also: what about “No more wire hangers” girl? That girl was at some point in her twenties, and I doubt she was the best of friends with her mom. So check your privilege, list.

6) You’ve discovered the importance of To-Do Lists.

Dammit!

Oof! You got me, list, you got me.

Okay, so the list is right. I am in my twenties.

Maybe there is something to this list business after all. Maybe I’m getting older, and realizing that my time is precious, and that lists are a fantastic way to try and reduce massive life-shifts into convenient, oven ready sound bites.

They humanize you, right? Remind you that you aren’t alone: that you’re not so special (or so hideous!) as you might think.

Every time you see an online list that says “Ten Reasons Ben Affleck Won’t Be A Good Batman,” you can comfortably know that you are not alone in your thoughts and inquiry!

But know that the secret list behind all Internet Lists is this one:

Ten Reasons You Can No Longer Concentrate

1. Because of the Internet
2. Because of the Internet
3. Because of the Internet
4. Because of the Internet
5. Because of the Internet
6. Etc
7. Etc
8. Etc
9. Etc
10. Etc

So for the record? I think Ben Affleck will do a pretty decent job in the Batman/Superman movie!

It is, of course, only the concept that I’m having a hard time with.

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1 Comment

  1. Grace Michal

    It’s crazy to think what data minors the rising generations will be with their whole iPad from the cradle thing!

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