by Geoff Olson

I used to think I could resist digital-age distractions better than the average person, but I may have met my electronic Waterloo. I’m talking about listicles, the trivia links found on web portals everywhere from The Huffington Post to

“In journalism and blogging, a listicle is a short-form of writing that uses a list as its thematic structure, but is fleshed out with sufficient copy to be published as an article,” according to an entry on Wikipedia. “List” plus “article”, get it?  “It has also been suggested that the word evokes popsicle, emphasizing the fun but not-too nutritious nature of the listicle,” the wiki adds.

Typical listicles have titles like “10 Last Remaining Wonders of the World You Must See,” “The 25 Weirdest Things About Your Body You’ll Ever Learn,” or “17 Extreme Selfies That Are Not For the Faint-Hearted.” Listicles are the species; the genus is clickbait, which is designed to make you click or tap from one mindless item to the next. The arrows for moving forward are often arranged in a purposefully confusing way, so you click by accident on a third-party advertiser’s link. The listicle-based revenue model is partly dependent on your surfing screw-ups.

Most of the times I can ignore this info-pollution. But every once a while I get pulled in by some underinformative but irresistible crap like “6 Celebrities Who Have Aged Poorly” or “15 Hilarious Instagram Comments.” For there is always a listicle tailored just for me or you, ready to hijack processing cycles from our overclocked brains.

And once you’re pulled into this vortex of trivia, bounced from Buzzfeed to to and beyond, you will click over and over like a lab rat on benzedrine. “16 Parents Spill the Beans on Their Kid’s Hilarious Secrets.”

Sure, why not? Click.

“The Worst 16 Corporate Logo Fails Ever.” Bring it on. Click, click.

“The 10 Worst Couples on Snapchat.” Absolutely – you already hate yourself for doing this, why stop now? Click, click, click.

When you finally stop and come to your senses, it seems only a short time has passed. Yet through some space/time swindle, it’s past midnight and the dog has crapped on the kitchen floor.

For example, the other day I was nooding around on the The Vancouver Sun’s website. How was I to know there were listicles lurking at the bottom of the page, among them “The 10 Best Super Bowl Commercials of All Time”? I like Super Bowl ads as much as I dislike the game of football, so I clicked and found myself on, which immediately hoovered 10 precious minutes from my allotted time on Earth.

Shortly after that I got caught for an unfeasibly long stretch of time on, where I clicked on “These Photos From the Past are Shocking, Crazy, or Both: I Still Can’t Believe Some of Them.” Some of the photos  were actually quite compelling – and that’s the evil thing about these clocksuckers; you will go through reams of crap in search of bits of cheese. It’s all about conditioned responses. A similar scheduling of positive reinforcement makes dogs to drool at dinner bells, Croc-wearing seniors throw change at slot machines, and Americans vote for interchangeable, corporate-sponsored candidates.

All through my listicle adventures, my Firefox plug-in Ghostery was going nuts, highlighting (and stopping) dozens of bots from otherwise unseen data brokers. Every time you’re on a big commercial portal your surfing patterns are tracked by these analytic and marketing companies, who buy your “clickstream” and sell it to third parties. All those clicks add up to building a more precise, profitable profile of yourself. (Even your clickstream of listicle choices says something about you.)

In the end, all the free content on the web means the ultimate product for sale is you.

Perhaps one day our atrophied descendants will spend their days clicking, tapping and swiping in their Matrix-like pods. The activity will supply energy to robot overlords, who will reward their farmed humans with holographically-displayed listicles bearing titles like, “10 Crazy People Who Believe We Are Living in a False Reality,” or “Amazing pictures of People in the Past Communicating to Each Other With their Food Apertures.”
The Vancouver Courier, June 12


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