A List of Obsessions: Oversummarizing the World Around Us


I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to clicking on the link to “The Top Ten Jobs in America” or “The Top Places to Live in the World” or any other lists that pique my interest.

Lists are quick, easy ways to process a lot of information in a short amount of time within a tiny bit of space. If these lists are generated by reliable sources, then we feel that the information we are receiving is accurate.

So what’s the harm in being obsessed with lists?

I have pondered this question and have resisted the urge to create a list of reasons why there may be some harm in relying solely on ranked, general statements of presumed fact. Lists are not bad things unto themselves. They offer a brief summary of data and research that can provide a good entry point into deeper exploration of topics that interest us.

But for some reason, in our dashboard-driven world, most people stop their exploration with the reading of the list. I mean, why bother going any further, right? The work has already been done for us. High-tech communications have driven us to access and process information through small video screens on our phone, tablets, and notebook computers. Lists have become physical manifestations of our compressed view of the world.

Maybe that is where the risk comes in.

If we are relying solely on bullet-pointed data and snapshot views of complex business reports, world news, or even sports stories, are we truncating our perspective as well as our ability to discern fact from fiction?

In a recent educational study of high school and college students, it was noted that young adults 16-25 years old have a higher capacity for processing information more quickly than those adults in the 25-40 year range. This study points to technology-enabled devices as a driving force for these numbers. More interestingly, the same group of 16-25 year olds has diminished abilities in comprehension, critical thinking, and the application of theories and concepts.

This means that technology may be increasing people’s ability to take in more data but decreasing our ability to apply it in the real world.

I have this sinking feeling that the more we rely on lists and abstracts of full articles for our information, the more we will lose our drive and determination to dig deeper into a subject. When that happens, we lose our objectivity and put ourselves at the mercy of others with their own opinions and agendas.

OK, that’s it… I can’t help it.

This problem is going right to the top of my list of “Obsessions to Avoid.”