One thing you shouldn’t do in the next five minutes

If you want to sell copy, sell a list.

Try this: do a Google search for things everyone should know. On the first page of results, you’ll find lists of 10, 20, 50, and 100 things everyone should know. Writers are happy to make extravagant claims on our time. And we let them do it, because if you don’t read this list, you’re in grave danger of not knowing the 10, 20, 50 or 100 things that everyone should know.

Needless to say, you don’t know most of those things, and you never will.

The urge to complete checklists is so strong that simply unrolling a long list in front of someone can induce panic. Have you ever experienced Netflix queue stress, Tivo tension, or bookstore anxiety? There’s this absurd thought: Look at all those books I have to read! Try this search: books you must read. Now how do you feel?

Jay Czarnecki saw what I wrote last week about marking things to read later. It’s easy to put too much food on your plate at the Internet Buffet, telling yourself you’ll certainly read it later. But you won’t, and the great bromide is this: That’s Okay. Jay was kind enough to send along this essay on the melancholy pleasure of Not Being Able To Do Everything: The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything. Don’t have time to read it? That’s okay. Here’s the big idea: If you don’t have time to read it, that’s okay. Reading everything doesn’t make sense anyway. The letters get all mashed together.

As for the one thing you shouldn’t do… don’t do this search: places to go before you die. You don’t need to go to all those places. I absolve you.

8 thoughts on “One thing you shouldn’t do in the next five minutes”

  1. This was actually my same problem with people creating “bucket lists”. I mean, yes, there are things I’d like to do, but I think it creates this artificial kind of human equation, where if you do x and y before you die, it means you were fulfilled.

    I frequently joke that the only real thing I had on my bucket list was “Marry Taleisha Bowen.” Hey, what do you know? I can check that one off now.

  2. I like how the lists are always nice round numbers. 10, 20, 50? Really? The exact number of things I should know about happens to match a single Roman numeral? Wow! Those Romans were waaay ahead of their time! I wonder if they were making a list of top places to see and got to 51 and said, “OK, stop there, and take Bujumbura off!”

  3. It’s the same reason Puerto Rico will never be a state until they make a deal with Grenada or something. 51 states? I don’t think so. The new words to “Fifty Nifty United States” would be horrible.

  4. How would we ever arrange 51 stars on a flag?

    Actually, I guess it wouldn’t be too bad, it could be three sets of (a row of 8 and a row of 9 offset).

  5. Thanks for the absolution, Ned. Now I can relax – perhaps without a top 20 book ;-)

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